The documentary hooked me right from the start. We all know (at least in the yoga community) the man and his inheritage. 26 poses and two breathing exercises performed in the same order every class for exactly 90 minutes in a heated room. So hot that most practionners would practice in bikini.
The documentary is all about the fall of his empire after he’s been sued for sexual harrassment and rape for six of his former students. All over 18, all pretty ambitious trainees.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not defending Bikram in any way. But the movie got me more fascinated by the stories of his trainees than by their megalomaniac and sexual predator Guru.
It’s not a feminist documentary
The documentary shows many facets of women.
The materialistic wife . She doesn’t mind her husband’s affairs, as long as the money is pourring in for her and their kids. She probably didn’t chose her pervert husband but at least she can get paid for bearing with him. Does it make her a horrible woman?
The ambitious yet so vulnerable students. They all venerate their Guru. He would call them anytime in the middle of the night for a massage and they would go. Why? because he is the master and because they need the precious training certificate only him can deliver. The sesame that will transform their yoga teacher life for the best.
Blame the sin or the sinner ?
Studying in a yoga teacher training is exhausting. Your mind and your body must be constantly switched on. And it is a lot of hours back to back, without a week break. At some stage I felt like a sponge, litteraly absorbing all the teachings of my teacher. I felt my teacher could read my body and my mind and it made me feel very vulnerable.
How would have I felt in a room filled with dozens of students (he sometimes trains over a hundred students at the time!), who like me would have made the financial sacrifice of collecting between 12’500 and 16’600 USD to become a Bikram certified yoga teacher? Would I have quit half way through the training? or would have I considered harrassment as a hidden part of the package?
How would I have felt if I were to live in a hotel for over 2 months in a row (the training lasts 9 weeks) without the authorization to leave before graduation? Exhausting my body and my mind to the point of not even realizing I am being brainwashed ?
The testimonies are terrible but they also show what ambition and naivety let you accept.
What is the message was about us, not only about him?
Those women are yoga teachers and I would have liked to see them feeling better about themselves. They are now the ones on stage – they have students who are looking up at them. Of course Bikram needs to be condemned for his crimes. But it seems to me that those women still need to realise that they are more than the settlement they got.
One must always keep in mind the vulnerability of the students. No matter their age or their condition. The male student who was obese when he started Bikram training is now a fit teacher, thanks to his teacher. He cried when he heard about Bikram’s condemnation because he felt he’d lost a father. Because Bikram incarnated the order and the harsh discipline he needed in his life.
There are many other Bikram, in and out the yoga studios. As there are many vulnerable preys ready to believe that a very charismatic charactere would transform them for the best – even if the process is uttermost painful, as long as the results shines. Who are we to judge ? In our days and age when our looks are so crucial, how much are you willing to pay the guru who guarantees to cure you from all ailments and make you look beautiful. And rich.
It’s all about the value you are ready to give to the price to pay for it. Is your physical body worth the deal?
Who am I to judge? I have never been an ambitious young teacher in California eager to open a studio. I never travelled around the world to earn the certificate that will enable me to be a the teacher I’ve always dreamt to become.
Self appreciation was the word that came to my mind at the end of the movie. How do those girls feel now? they got money from the settlement but does money buy peace of mind? how does the publicity affect their practice? their teachings? Bikram is still a free man – except in the US – and he is still teaching around the world. His classes are full. Does it mean that yogis are more empowered now that a decade ago and know how to say no to an abuser ? are his students able to make a distinction between the man and the teacher? I naively would like to believe so.
Ahimsa, the first of the 5 yamas, is the practice of non harm, which includes physical, mental and emotional violence towards ourselves and others.