Bikram Yoga Controversy
Well known as ‘hot yoga’, Bikram Yoga is the target of criticism from the larger yoga community. The point of contention is Bikram Choudhury’s appropriation and copyrighting of traditional hatha yoga postures.
Though Bikram Choudhury recognizes these traditional yoga postures (asanas) are within the public domain, he claims that his yoga lessons constitutes copyrightable compilation of information.
Furthermore, Choudhury began notifying yoga instructors several years ago to the effect that they must attain a license from him to teach Bikram yoga. Choudhury also began demanding that yoga instructors seek license from him just to use the term ‘Bikram Yoga’.
Legal Suits Surrounding Bikram Yoga
Open Source Yoga filed for a declaratory judgment which, if granted, would mean that Choudhury does not have enforceable trademark or copyright protection.
As of May 2005 OSYU stated on its website that Open Source Yoga and Bikram Yoga had come to a ‘mutually satisfactory resolution’.
Ascent Magazine’s Interview with Ted Grand
In an interview with Marian Neilson Ted Grand, after emphasizing his repects and love for Bikram, says, “However, my opinion is that on one level he is misdirected and slightly abusive of the power he has been entrusted with. Within the Bikram community, for example, if you don’t do exactly as he says and fall in line, then you risk alienation and judgement from the rest of the community.”
Grand says that despite the controversy over Bikram yoga within the hatha yoga community Bikram has offered a viable yoga system that has improved the lives of several thousands of people and that these merits outweigh the accusations against Bikram Choudhury the man.
When asked how it is that Bikram yoga has so many benefits as well as so much controversy surrounding it, Grad had this to say:
“In a lot of cases, Bikram himself causes the controversy. He’s a performer and he really likes to poke people, show them their weaknesses, show them their anger and their reactionary nature. And on another level he knows controversy sells product, and he is very much a marketer. So it’s hard to reconcile, because this is a man who taught me so much and made me realize so much about myself. On the other hand, it’s really, really hard to hear some of the things that he says. I don’t have a lot of peace with it sometimes. It’s just not cool to violate people’s personal philosophy all the time. It’s just not right. There are already too many differences in the world that create misunderstandings, and I think Bikram sometimes perpetuates that.”
Separating the Message From the Messenger
By many accounts, the most unfortunate aspect of the Bikram Yoga controversy is the attitude of exclusion. Many yogis have worked hard to dispel notions within the yoga community as to which style of yoga is more spiritual, good, bad, real etc.
These same yoga teachers strive to make the point that there are many different styles of yoga from which to learn. It is important that we do not speak poorly of one particular yoga system as it may be a source of inspiration and healing for someone else.
Bikram yoga was developed by a very learned yogi. Bikram Choudhury studied at Tokyo University with leading doctors and certainly has put in the work and research it takes to become a yoga expert,
“But the messenger has gotten caught up in the whirlwind of consumeristic materialistic culture. He came to Beverly Hills. Those are the people he knows. So when he criticizes “people in the West,” which he often does, his perspective is pretty small. And when a lot of us go down there and he says we’re fat, we’re lazy, we’re stupid, we’re self-indulgent babies and on and on, it’s not entirely appropriate, I don’t think.“
So how does one combat negativity without stooping to negativity as well? In the case of information it’s simply a matter of sharing one’s perspective with others. Rather than saying that so-and-so is ‘wrong’ we can say ‘yes, but, in my experience this is the case’.
With regard to Bikram Yoga we can work to include the positive aspects of the Bikram yoga system without the messenger’s negative asides.
Grand goes on to say, “ When I came back, instead of rejecting the Bikram’s series outright, I started to apply what I had learned to how I was teaching. [...] My devotion comes from wanting to honour the practice and where it came from, and not have it be a consumer item.”