Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bikram Yoga: An Introduction

You know Bikram Yoga. It’s a form of Hatha Yoga. It’s the Hot Yoga.

And I am cynical.

Who’d of thunk Bikram was named after an actual individual? I always took the title as nomenclature for the hot ‘n’ sweaty variety, the type that my friends rave about, claiming it sucks for the first 18 times, but after that, you love it. It turns out it is named after one Bikram Choudhury, and it turns out, he is 100% PIMP.

Reading about him, I am at first heartened by our similarities. He is of Bengali descent; I am of Bengali descent. He trashed his knee* and fixed it; I trashed my knee** and need to fix it. Judging by photographs of him, he addresses his thinning hair by with an elaborate comb-over; I address my thinning hair by adorning the nouveau-adultolescent metrosexual method of shaving my head and pretending for the rest of my life that I actually want to look like Mr. Clean, without the muscles.

Here, though, similarities end. I’m given to understand that he traffics in Rolls Royces- has a garage full of them, in fact- and has catered to the Rich and Famous in Beverly Hills for the last 26 years. He is wealthy, has all types of ‘endorsement photos’ on his office wall, that of Shirley McLain, President Clinton, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and is, in fact, the only teacher in possession of a patent on his yoga positions. If I accidentally strike the “reclining feline” position while napping, do I need to pay royalties? I’m skeptical, full of the indignant, inflated self-righteousness of a man not even within reasonable driving distance of the Almost Famous.

I know. I’m critical, and much of the slashing I do involves the American Corporate Model of spiritual sellout. I paint Americans as the guilty party, but you can’t sell out Ancient Indian Spirituality without Indians canning it and moving it out the door for $19.99 a case, $17.99 for you, baba, since we like you so much.

Case in point #1: Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is the ostensibly Mystic Ancient Medicinal Practice of Deepest Darkest India. Slap ‘ayurvedic’ on any Whole Foods product and you can up the price 4-fold. But rather than indicting New Age on this, let us look at some authentic Ayurvedic imports.

I have two personal hygiene products- direct from India- that purport to be Ayurvedic, namely toothpaste and soap. Now, perhaps they use a specific combination of herbs to reduce your Vetta, I don’t know for sure. What I can tell you is that the toothpaste has the color of used hospital gauze soaked in watered-down iodine and cements to the sink if you don’t wash it away immediately. The soap- while smelling mystic- also comes with a folded informational sheet which guarantees that the soap will, “…ensure your personal charm”, which doesn’t sound too ayurvedic to me.

Case in point #2: Shakti

Shakti is the divine feminine force of the universe, embodied by the Tridevi, the goddesses Lakshmi, Paravati and Saraswati. It can also, it seems, be added to the Indian version of Corn Flakes, as in “Now with Added Shakti!” And to think, we just fortify our cereal with vitamins.

And so I feel this man is complicit in The Sellout. It occurs to me that his patent is not on the asanas themselves- all of Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, and Anusara utilize the same positions. He has a patent on the sequence.

I once- before I started going to classes- had a deck of cards, each with a different asana. It occurs to me that Bikram may have just shuffled the deck, turned up the thermostat, and called it good.

I’m hoping there is more to it than that. I’m trying ( and clearly failing) to be more open minded, but there is too much here to be worried about. My friends have already gotten over their worries about this man- it is generally agreed that he is an asshat, but they seem to believe that this sequence has merit. Me, I’m not so sure.

Still, I have a job to do, and so I select Funky Door Studio in Berkeley, CA, because nothing says “Americanized” like 8 ft high, 1950’s-greaser-era-muscle-car flames painted on the windows. I’m assuming that the name refers to their unorthodox storefront, but I have to wonder, given the fact that the business revolves around hermetically sealing a group of exercising hairless monkeys with copious sweat glands in a room upwards of 105 degrees for over an hour, if the word “funky” might not have been the wisest choice to advertise the business. Frankly, I’m worried about touching the storied ‘funky door.’

* In a competitive Yoga tournament, which seems odd. “I’m the MOST enlightened Yogi in tha muthafuckin’ House, BITCHES!”
** By running into a tree while snowboarding, on the bunny-hill, surrounded by 6-year-olds who could out-snowboard me before they were potty-trained. Perhaps I’m being generous, albeit to myself, by claiming we have so much in common.


teka said...

oh, shu - somehow, i hope that your blog catches the attention of somebody at npr, because i'm picturing you as the asian david sedaris.

Chronically Fabulous said...

amen to the above comment - only I'd say that David Sedaris is the New York/gay/greek Bananasana.

Bikram is the yoga gangsta - you got it right. Oh my favorite was him SUING yoga studios for teaching "his" yoga - as if he hadn't learned it from his teachers, who learned from his teachers, etc..... Talk about materialism. I just hold up my hand and wanna tell him "Guru, please!"