Bikram Choudhury’s “Bikram Yoga – The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment” was published in 2007. At the time I was practicing at the first and the original Bikram Yoga studio in Dallas. I didn’t buy it then thinking that it would contain the same information as in his earlier book published in 2000 called “Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class”.
Last year when I began practicing at home intensely, I finally bought the 2007 book. What the heck, I thought. I had bought two copies of the 2000 book and given it away to family and friends after reading it and deciding that the teaching in the studio was more helpful to me. Why not finally buy this book that I had resisted buying before!
I bought it. I read it. It was written from the heart. And it spoke to mine. I shared most of the opinions expressed therein. So I started making notes in the margins, not so much to make corrections but more to add my two cents worth of thoughts on what Bikram was saying. It was a vindication of what I had been realizing about how Hatha Yoga works. You will see what I mean shortly.
Chapter Four titled, “Right Road, Wrong Direction: How American Yoga Lost Its Way”, begins with a quote from Paramahansa Yogananda, “The theory advanced by certain ignorant writers that yoga is “unsuitable for Westerners” is wholly false, and has lamentably prevented many sincere students from seeking its manifold blessings. Yoga cannot know a barrier of East and West any more than does the healing and equitable light of the sun.” Fair enough. It continues on like so.
“But Bikram,” I can hear you saying, “why do you keep yelling at us that we need to do yoga? We are doing yoga! You of all people should know how popular yoga’s become in the United States in the past 10 years or so. Maybe you need to wake up, open your eyes, and realize we’ve already taken your advice. What’s your problem?”
Of course, my friends, I know that yoga is now trendy, popular and a subject for glossy magazine covers; I even read somewhere over 20 million people in the United States say they practice yoga. And that’s a big number. But numbers can lie. To explain, I will ask you a question: What kind of yoga are all those people doing? Bogus yoga, that’s what kind. That’s my problem, and your problem. It’s an obstacle that continues to block the liberation of the West, individually and collectively. It’s the next speed bump you have to pass on your drive to the perfect life, and it’s a big one. …”
According to Bikram,
“… Swami Vivekananda was the first Indian spiritual master to visit the modern West. He came to the United States in September 1893 (when he was 27) to speak at the World Parliament of Religions, part of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. His speech on Vedanta and Raja Yoga was so well received that he was subsequently booked for a lecture tour throughout the United States. When he left America, Vivekananda told people that another yogi would follow him, and named his successor Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, my guru’s older brother. Remarkably, at the time of Swami Vivekananda’s prophecy, Paramahansa Yogananda was less than one year old.
The famed author of Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, came to Boston in 1920 and stayed there five years, teaching the eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In addition, he taught his disciples an advanced yogic breathing and meditation technique that he called Kriya Yoga, “the airplane route to God.” In 1924, Yogananda went on a spiritual campaign across the United States, spreading the messages of Self-Realization. Hundreds of thousands of Americans filled lecture halls to hear the great Indian swami’s impassioned speeches. In 1925 he established the International Headquarters of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Glendale, California.
In the early 1930s, Yogananda and his youngest brother, Bishnu Ghosh, traveled together throughout the United States giving lectures and demonstrations of physical culture including bodybuilding and Hatha Yoga. At Yogananda’s request, my guru also started teaching Hatha Yoga at the Self-Realization Fellowship. Ghosh inspired both children and adults to strengthen their bodies and minds. My guru also originated bodybuilding contests in America, founding the Mr. Universe contest and acting as its chief judge in 1948. He was an Olympic judge, a member of the International Weightlifting and Body Building Federation. He also became a visiting professor at Columbia University, though he continued to return to India often in order to train yogis at his own school, Ghosh’s College of Physical Education, in Calcutta.
Following my guru and his son-in-law, Buddha Bose, three more significant yogis came to the United States. The first to arrive was Bishnu Devananda, who was followed by Swami Satchitananda. They were both disciples of Swami Sivananda and considered powerful yogis. Then, in the early 1970s, B. K. S. Iyengar, a yogi from Pune, near Bombay, arrived. Unfortunately, these three yogis and others felt that the American people and their bodies were just not capable of practicing real, traditional Indian yoga. They responded by changing the true yoga they’d been taught into something they thought Americans could more readily accomplish and understand. Frankly, they didn’t think you could handle the truth.
What did they do because of their lack of faith in Western people and the sacred teaching of their gurus? How did they screw up their sacred duty? First, they changed some of Patanjali’s original 84 postures to accommodate the inflexibility of American bodies, and stopped teaching other postures they thought would be too hard. Another of the worst bastaradizations was that they loosened or abandoned the rigorous discipline with which yoga must be taught, the way they themselves came to be yoga masters. Americans, they mistakenly believed, should not be pushed out of their “comfort zone.” Next came all the bizarre props, including ropes, straps, chairs, pulleys, benches, whips, chains, clamps and other unnecessary crutches to try to help Western bodies get into the postures. Iyengar used so many props in his method that he’s called “The Furniture Yogi” in India. All of this compromised the true way and diluted Hatha Yoga.
Having turned just 50 almost two weeks ago, I wouldn’t know about most of the people who Bikram mentions. But I have practiced (tried is a better word, but let’s be charitable) Iyengar Yoga here in Dallas. I can see why he’s called “The Furniture Yogi” in India. So many props are used that one actually goes to sleep instead of awakening to one’s own true potential. When so many helping hands come forward to ease you into postures so you can say you too do yoga, why bother with the correct and the hard way! After all, Americans are all about making money and want results now, now, now! Such bald-faced lies! This absurd opinion is held about people who still use a jury of peers to determine a person’s guilt instead of just letting a judge decide. This is the opinion held about people who worked out and continue to work out checks and balances to curb executive, legislative and judicial powers! Bah humbug, I say!
And finally, to my mind, here’s the pièce de résistance:
“… American yoga teachers invent posture after posture, modification after modification, making up their own Sanskrit names, and then selling their defective wares to the uninitiated. Now you find, to list just a few, things like Kundalini Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga, which never existed in India. … these things (and so-called Vinyasa Yoga) are not part of the original yoga; there is only Hatha. Bikram Yoga is Hatha Yoga.
These days, the yoga “brands” are getting even more ridiculous; you’ve got Easy Yoga, Sit-at-Your-Desk Yoga, Yoga for Beginners, Yoga for Dummies, Yoga for Pets, and Babaar Yoga. It’s all Mickey Mouse Yoga to me. …”
Could not have said it better myself.
Books on Bikram Yoga that I find useful in my practice are as follows:
1. Bikram Yoga – The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment, Bikram Choudhury. Copyright 2007 by Bikram Choudhury.
Q: Why do I like this book?
A: It took me so long to even buy the book that I knew that (a) I was not ready for its teachings until last year, and (b) its teachings will prove to be a rich and profound source of investigation, validation and inspiration.
2. Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, Bikram Choudhury. Copyright 2000 by Bikram Choudhury.
Q: Why do I like this book?
A: It was the first book on Bikram Yoga I bought. Even then it took me a while to purchase it and then read it. I liked it enough to buy copies for family and friends who did not have easy access to a Bikram Yoga studio near where they lived.
3. Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, Bikram Choudhury. Copyright 1978 by Bikram Choudhury.
Q: Why do I like this book?
A: I love this one. It’s got illustrations by Bonnie Jones Reynolds that are plain hilarious, and very true at the same time. A daily practitioner can look at them and think, “So that’s what I look like in that pose!”