Bikram, Boris and Bhakti

I've been receiving messages about the latest Bikram documentary on Netflix- 'Bikram: yogi, guru, predator'- so feel I should write a little around this topic. The very first thing I will insist upon is the title should just be 'Bikram: predator.' He IS NOT a yogi or a guru and I shall expand upon that a little in this piece. These are my current opinions/understanding on the matter and obviously everybody is entitled to differ in theirs.

The documentary may be old news to the yoga community, but it is reaching a new audience who may not have been aware of these horrendous acts. Let's be honest, this is not just Bikram but has been happening globally at various different levels. I'll cut to the chase and say that yoga will always reflect society in some way, and regrettably this has happened here. I am not excusing behaviour, but the actions of this horrible man (I'm being too polite there...the c word would be more apt) reflect the actions across wider society. In the West we have Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in power. They may seem totally different to one another, or you may be able to see how these three are in the same mould.

The first is privilege, which comes in many forms. They all display not only financial privileges but other privileges such as gender. In a talk by Anneke Lucas ('The Unconditional Model: Using One's Whole Self in Trauma Healing') she discusses how privilege can be a block to us healing our trauma. In other words, the more privileges you have, why would you feel as much need to heal? These men all ooze privilege and trauma, which as a combination is what maintains the top-down power structures of capitalist society. The root problem here is society. We can single out individuals- which gives survivors a much needed voice to help them heal- but in the long term and on the macro level it is not going to change much without the whole of society looking at itself.

In yoga there are four ages or Yugas; Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali Yuga. We are said to be in the age of Kali Yuga, which is one of ignorance, destruction etc. I.e. seemingly shitty times. Does that sound about right? Creation and destruction are two of the same. E.g. to create a table out of wood, I need to destroy a tree. It is for this reason that in actuality the notion of ahimsa- or non-harming- is impossible. So we work with the least amount of harm. Anyway, the point here is that we are in an age of a lot of horrendous occurrences, such as Bikram. This eventually leads us to a return to Satya Yuga, which is the era of truth; a return to dharma, or that which is just and true. I believe that on a wider level we have to see what is wrong to find what is right, and that is essentially what Kali Yuga is. We then have to 'destroy' that which is wrong. Can you see what is going on in society at the moment? Slowly more and more horrendous wrong doings are being brought to public attention as we 'cleanse' ourselves of these. It's incredibly upsetting to watch, let alone if you are a survivor of an atrocity, but on a wider level- when we zoom out- it is part of the process. We have just moved into a year of returning more to dharma, so this 'bringing to light' of these horrors may well increase. This process is not pretty, but it is incredibly necessary.

So, Mr. Choudhury. Yuk! The man is VILE. End of! He is not a yogi. End of! He is not a guru. End of! His actions go against pretty much EVERY SINGLE TEACHING OF YOGA. I cannot see one action of his which is in keeping with yoga. So he is not a 'yogi' in any way shape or form. There is therefore no possible way that he can be called a 'guru'. The only thing he is is representative of a whole host of problematic features of society, and therefore yoga which is within that society.

Yoga was never a room packed full of people. It was teacher/guru and student/disciple. This shifted as yoga became more predominantly a physical practice. There are many reasons for this that have been written about, always from a Western understanding. I am not here to comment on why this happened, but to say this is what has happened. Just think what first springs into your mind when someone says the word 'yoga' to you. I am jumping to a conclusion that it will be a physical body in some form of contortionist shape. For a few of you it might be someone sat in meditation. Either way it is based around a physical form. To give you an indication of the truth behind this, do a google image search of the word yoga. Some of you also may know that there is more to yoga than the physical. What if I was to say yoga is the path to the discovery of our true nature/self? What if I was to say that yoga is in our actions? What if I was to say that yoga was a study? Or that yoga was pure devotion or bhakti? If it was widely regarded that these aspects were yoga we would not have ended up as exercise practices such as Bikram.

Does this look like yoga?

As I mentioned, we are in a dark age, and one to show us exactly what is wrong. We are also in a period of returning to what is right. We have been shown right before our very eyes what is wrong with 'yoga' (in its current form in the West). This was an unfortunately necessary process to help us return to truth. Our duty as yoga teachers is to educate more than ever the real meaning of yoga. It is to do our best to walk the true path of yoga and self-realisation, so that we do not fall pray to the trappings of the West. This also enables us to teach what is yoga; if we are not walking the path there is no way that we can teach, and it remains a physical practice devoid of true meaning. (It is why I personally took a step back from teaching for a period of deep study and devotional practice. But all this darkness and our push to return to dharma is bringing me back into yogic action.)

On an individual level it is time to have a real look at ourselves. And be honest! One of the difficulties is that negative behaviour is now so vilified that it becomes increasingly difficult to be honest and hold our hands up. Our institutionalised racism and sexism is a prime example. Most people would now say they are not racist or sexist, but there is no possible way you can't be. I hate to tell you this, but it is ingrained and incredibly hard to be removed. If we all start being a lot more honest, with open discussions rather than arguments, we can start moving away from this darkness. The more that we suppress and sweep matters under the carpet, the more we shall have truly tragic events such as Bikram and Boris.

You may not feel it, but we are all responsible, and this is a good thing. We are society. If we try to change ourselves that WILL reflect in the wider society in time. Or we could just sit and watch documentaries and hope that might change things. Which do you think will ACTUALLY make a difference?