A Yoga Teacher’s Response to the “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator” Documentary on Netflix

Samantha Maracic
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Whether you’ve taken one or 100 Hot Yoga or Bikram classes, you probably remember what it felt like to make it through that initial 90-minute flow. From a drastic shift in temperature to a challenging range of poses, there’s a lot to acclimate to in such a uniquely cultivated environment.

However, for those who are willing to stick with it, Hot Yoga can generate incredible mental, physical, and spiritual growth. So it’s no wonder that today millions of students around the globe have dedicated years of their lives to this particular style of practice.

Ironically, however, it has taken Netflix just one hour and 26 minutes to aid in permanently unraveling the same system that once helped to define yoga here in the United States.
 
 

The Bikram Documentary on Netflix Follows the Rise and Fall of Bikram Choudhury

Through the intrepid lens of filmmaker Eva Orner, Netflix’s explosive Bikram documentary titled, “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator,” gives viewers an inside look at the rise and fall of Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury.

From humble beginnings in Calcutta to 650 studios around the globe, Bikram became the face of a movement. And his impact was not without fiscal gain. Thanks in large part to his high-priced teacher trainings (a requirement for those seeking to license the Bikram studio name), Bikram Choudhury’s business brought in millions of dollars a year.

Shots of the self-proclaimed guru posing with lavish cars, bragging about relationships with celebrities, and teaching in nothing but a Speedo and a Rolex reiterate the role that money played in Bikram’s story.
 

 
 
However, a flashy relationship with material goods is far from the most salacious topic covered in the film.

Through live footage of teacher trainings and in depth interviews with former students, the Bikram documentary takes a deep dive into the abusive and oftentimes sexual accusations made against Bikram Choudhury.

In doing so, this documentary not only brings to question the empire upon which Bikram sits, but also, the concept of morality in yoga moving forward.

From brainwashing to rape, the claims made against Bikram Choudhury are equally disturbing and tragic. Unfortunately, as the film points out, they have also been overlooked, downplayed, and in some cases, plainly ignored.

With that said, I believe it’s time that we use this Bikram documentary as an opportunity to speak up.
 
 

A Yoga Teacher’s Thoughts on Bikram Choudhury and the Bikram Documentary

While I am a yoga teacher, I do not claim to be anything more than one member of a vast, global community of practitioners. I didn’t train in India, nor have I become expertly versed in every ancient philosophy.

What I am, however, is a woman, who like many of the women featured in the Bikram documentary, looked to yoga as a means of living my life more consciously. And through that experience here is what I’ve learned:

At the core of the practice of yoga lies a powerful prescription for integrity. And so while the physical postures or “asanas” play an important role in that formula, they are really there to heal the body and motivate spiritual growth. For students, each pose provides a jumping point for expansion.

The powers of Pranayama and yogic tradition add motivation to each of those movements to create a connection between the mind, the body, and the breath.

In yoga we learn concepts of balance, flexibility, and strength on the mat so that we may show up off the mat with a greater understanding of how to be that way in our relationships, our jobs, and our lives.
 

 
 
I am of the opinion that how well you teach a student to pretzel their body means very little if you cannot equally share in what it means to practice yoga off the mat. This is what separates yoga from a fitness class. At its core, yoga isn’t movement; it’s ethics.

Here in the United States, the law dictates that all people are innocent until proven guilty. Bikram Choudhury’s decision to skirt our legal system not only prevents him from clearing his name, but also strips his accusers of an opportunity for justice.

This act alone stands in direct conflict with the ethical standards of integrity emphasized in yogic tradition. And so regardless of where you may or may not stand on Bikram as a figure within the yoga community, the fact remains that he has failed.

He has proven himself incapable of upholding the values of a decent, law-abiding human being, let alone someone claiming to be a man of enlightenment.
 
 

The Takeaway on Bikram Choudhury and His Place in the Yoga Community

As I mentioned earlier, I am but one member of a much larger yoga community. So I speak for myself alone when I say that I have chosen to separate the man from a practice he has falsely marketed as his own.

Yoga is – and forever will be – a place of solace for me. What it will not be, however, is a place for me to bury my head or dismiss wrongdoing. After all, I have learned too much from my practice for that.

Want to learn more about Bikram and his scandals? Read: Bikram Choudhury: a Hot Yoga Controversy

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Samantha Maracic

Sam Maracic is a freelance wellness writer and yoga teacher based in New York. Her work has been featured on CBS, MindBodyGreen, Bustle and more. Sam's first book "We Are Like Wells" is available now on Amazon.com.

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