Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
A man, naked except for a tiny black Speedo, is shouting at his followers: “You, Miss Teeny-Weeny Bikini! Spread your legs! You, Mr. Masturbation! Until I say ‘Change,’ you do not move a muscle!”
This is Bikram Choudhury, 64-year-old founder of Bikram Yoga, an intense, heated version of the ancient practice. Choudhury is in high demand in the United States, leading rigorous, 105-degree classes packed wall-to-wall with sweaty women and men hoping to become certified Bikram instructors, reports Clancy Martin in Details.
Choudhury claims to have crafted a perfect workout, healed professional athletes and celebrities, and enlivened the sex lives of countless disciples (“For good sex you want eagle pose! With this one you are fucking until you are 90!”). He has also managed to rake in $5 million a year since legally patenting his sequence of 26 yoga postures and two breathing exercises. But is there any spiritual component in Choudhury’s program? Martin writes:
Yoga is thought to date back 5,000 years, and for Hindus, claiming it as intellectual property is akin in Christian terms to copyrighting the Lord’s Prayer. “Call it exercise. Call it a good workout. Call it what you like,” says Dr. Aseem Shukla, cofounder of the Hindu American Foundation. “But don’t call it yoga. It’s a cynical appropriation of Hinduism.”
Even Choudhury himself doesn’t claim to take Americans on a sacred journey, Martin finds:
I ask whether Bikram Yoga promotes spiritual growth.
“You Westerners are like spiritual babies,” Choudhury says. “You were born in the wrong country, with the wrong skin color, in the wrong culture. You can never be spiritual! It is not your fault. I’m sorry about that. If you can even get the body right, that much is good enough for you!”
So there isn’t any religious aspect to Bikram Yoga?
“Religion is the biggest piece of shit created in all time!”