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Miami Man Seeks ‘Vengeance’ for Bikram Yoga Breaking His Back

in Lawsuit-asana

bikram-standing-bow-pose

A Miami man is claiming Bikram yoga teachers encouraged him to keep taking class until he finally snapped, literally. Eric Oriol, 58, injured his back in the Navy years ago but he says it was the persistence of the teachers at Bikram Yoga North Miami to keep practicing that finally broke his L5, fifth lumbar vertebra. (The storied and vulnerable L5!) During ”the bow and arrow” pose Oriol heard something crack and felt bolts of pain shoot up his spine.

The incident happened in December 2010, and after more than a year of rehabilitation, Orial went ahead and sued the yoga studio in March 2102. And won. Initially demanding $5,000 an agreement was reached for $1,500.

Studio owner Kristina Vecsesi maintains it was “a total scam” and that she only paid Oriol on advice from her attorney because “it was probably cheaper to give him a little bit of money just to have him go away,”  Vecsesi told the Miami New Times.

But Oriol has a different story:

“Instead of suggesting that I go see a doctor, all the instructors in unison told me that I needed to continue with the practice because my pain was mostly mental and that the yoga was going to fix whatever problem I was going through,” he claims. “I was even told by some of the best instructors that my lower back pains were a manifestation of the financial issues I was facing in my life.”

We don’t know if was a scam or not, but unfortunately, we tend to believe these types of situations happen, and teachers have been known to say this stuff. While it’s a case of he said, she said, stories like this are wake up calls for students and yoga teachers alike. Whose fault is it really? Generally, waivers relieve studios and teachers of liability in the case of injury, but that doesn’t give them license to offer reckless, irresponsible advice. Then again, at what point do we stop listening to our bodies and hand fate over to the professionals of positivity?

But the most interesting part about this particular story? Oriol tried to go back to class! However, when attempting to join a different studio in North Miami Beach he was denied. Vecsesi had gone one step further and alerted the community to put Oriol on the no sweat list. ”I had put the word out to the studio owners that I knew personally because I didn’t want them to end up getting scammed by this guy,” Vecsesi said. That’s really bad karma.”

Bad karma or insanity? We know the definitions of both.

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29 comments… add one

  • shannon

    An individual being able to sue someone- is a right- whether they have a case or not. Teachers are sued- be it yoga or other wise- yoga is especially volatile becuase people have issues and practicing yoga tends to bring that to the forefront (class). This guy obviously had some issues. A reasonable person with a history of a back injury is not going to blindly follow someones directions while in pain. Nonetheless, was the teacher(s) oblivious to this guys mental/emotional frailty? I’m not saying a teacher needs to be a psychiatrist/mother/ whatever, but should be able to recognize potential weirdness and back off. I seriously doubt everything this guy said is true… but there is probably an element of truth to it…

  • Trish

    My legs and lower body are quite strong but my upper body – not so much. At the time my story took place I had been practicing for about ten years. There are one or two poses I would not do because chance of injury pretty high. The teacher (co-owner of studio) came over and in a loud voice kept saying over and over YOU ARE JUST AFRAID. YOU ARE FULL OF FEAR, etc. etc, (maybe like the teacher in your article but her words may have been YOU HAVE MONEY PROBLEMS (WTF!)

    And so I followed directions with the teacher standing over me doing her best to try to shame me and guess what – I hurt my neck. But I learned a valuable lesson about yoga, teachers and my freedom to stand up and say fuck off.

    I didn’t sue. I didn’t go back. I found that I needed a new place to practice. I realize many yoga teachers do not believe in science or medicine but unfortunately facts and beliefs are not the same thing. I also wonder who appointed some teachers the experts on psychology and/or spirituality. I’m a yoga teacher, too, and I teach the poses not shame people into thinking their personal psychological make up prevents them from doing something their physical body cannot master at will.

    I would be 100% on the side of the guy who got injured especially if he was using your photo because as far as I can tell the model should drop her left hip down so her torso is parallel to the floor. She is trying so hard to gain full extension and look like what she may think is magnificent at the expense of the actual pose. She is tweaking her back, angling it so the natural curvature is compromised. Say what you want about mind/body connection, but the appropriate way to explain it is not by screaming YOU”RE AFRAID – is that a mind/body connection?

    And to end my comments – Bikram is so unpleasant I can’t imagine why anyone would practice poses in a furnace with someone screaming at them the ENTIRE time and being doused with sweat from nearby students standing on a soggy, germ infested carpet.

    Don’t get me started on the handstand people…

  • Vision_Quest2

    Me also. Adho mukha vrksasana and sirsasana (practically every variation and modification of them, short of being propped up by a construction crew of at least two!) and me will never see eye-to-eye.

    But yeah, hot mat pilates gets a pass.

    It’s not the commands. It’s not the heat. It’s the modality.

  • Jen

    I do Yoga every once in a while, my instructors constantly are telling me to listen to my body and to hold the stretch in the way that is most comfortable for me. They do not want you to exert or challenge your body before you are ready for it. They always show two ways to do a pose, the correct way and a simpler, modified way until I’m ready up the intensity. Even my teacher admits that some stretches are hard on him and he does not put himself in the full position because it hurts (this is with two different backward bend poses). He knows he is not as flexible in those stretches and doesn’t try to hurt himself to prove a point.

  • Katie

    I have weak joints in my legs, and my Bikram teachers were constantly pushing me to “go further” in postures like toe stand and standing head to knee – even when they knew of my issues. It always bothered me that they never suggested that I “back off” or “go slowly”. Instead, in the Bikram studio it was always “harder” “push” “further”. Outside the Bikram studio my yoga teachers always encouraged mindfulness and even advised to skip out postures if I wasn’t sure. My doctor agreed with these teachers, saying to take it easy so I didn’t cause more issues. I understand that studios ask you to sign waivers, but if they are going to teach you to do something with your body, then I think they need to take responsibility and accountability if a students injures him or herself because of their advice.

  • Desiree

    As a teacher – I am not a certified therapist, nor am I a doctor. I would never ask a student to practice through pain or diagnosis their emotional issues, if the teachers really responded as he states. I’d advise them to have their doctor check it out.

    Several years ago I had a friend’s 52 father get completely turned off to yoga because he went to a Miami Bikram studio where the teacher forced him deeper into a forward fold in his first class. Fortunately, he had no permanent injuries but limped around until it healed and never went back to yoga to my knowledge.

  • shannon

    Trish
    your comments are funny- I was curious about Bikram at one point but then realized everyone was practically in their under wear, better to have the sweat drip on your mat, robotically follow directions and get yelled at. I would probably start laughing and get kicked out.
    Hand stand- I would love to hear what you have to say-

  • Trish

    The handstand people – I’m not making this up – I have had two teachers observe the same thing. I’m older than most in a class and have a stronger practice with good form. This seems to set off something in nearby students, the competitive ones I would speculate. They try handstands, headstands, half moon and I am the one who gets fallen on, kicked or pretty much bumped into. It is as if I am a vortex for anyone who falls out of a pose, usually one for which they have no foundation.

    But the most annoying thing is when students do handstands no matter what the class is doing. The level of “performance” yoga has gotten out of hand and to me misses the point of a yoga practice. Sadly they will miss the pleasure of practice at an age when they really need it.

  • shannon

    Totally!
    A yoga class can be a little brew of emotional stuff- for many- that competitive /ego thing gets triggered- and people start straining to get into poses when the basics haven’t been mastered. Some of that, can be controlled by a good teacher- not always of course.
    I call it “performance yoga”. Why don’t they just call it what it is on the schedule!?!? It does completely miss the point.
    I have a teacher who recently studied for a week in canada with a master. He told her to practice sun salutations for 3 months. SHe has been practicing yoga for >10 yrs, is an accomplished teacher in her own right. Now that is my kind of teacher. I have another teacher who tells the class- in other parts of the world, advanced practitioners will attend a class on nothing more than tadasana. Now thats the real deal

  • Vision_Quest2

    Sometimes the entire class could be child’s pose or savasana … and then a dharma talk. But what gets my goat is that those same teachers get into moods where everybody gotta attempt headstand!

    So done with that. And read my lips: “What you call ‘tapas’ is overrated. And threats of not burning off your karma don’t sit with me anymore …”

  • Vision_Quest2

    @Trish, it comes from the top … you don’t wanna know what happened to me at the 6/21/13 Solstice Yoga Celebration in Times Square, New York City … I had been piled upon by a female yoga model/teacher, one probably affiliated with Yoga Journal, as it was posing/preening for cellphone photos at the very end –as I’d been trying to collect and repack my swag–totally ignoring the possible projectile–from my first ever excursion to that event … probably it had been subconsciously pissed at my lack of attention …. thus, resulting in lack of pratyahara (not very advanced as a practitioner, WAS it …)

  • Jamie Grollman

    Namaste Lucy! That is the name of my yoga teacher this morning when I said that I knew my limit and I couldn’t do…………her response to me – that’s the yoga good for you for knowing your own body. I would only hope that all yoga teachers and their students are like us! It takes two to take responsibility. the teacher AND the student.

  • Elizabeth

    I discourage anyone from hyperextending their knee like the person in the photo.

    Like it or not, when you stand in the place of the yoga teacher, students look to you as the expert. Many of them have very limited yoga knowledge outside of what they see and hear in class. They trust you to teach them the right thing to do. For some bodies on some days, that might be “harder, deeper, more” but that’s not the case for all bodies on all days.

    My goal is to teach people to respect their bodies, and learn to understand what their bodies are telling them. If something hurts (I mean pain, not “that’s weird/intense”), sometimes there are modifications or refinements that can be applied to the execution of the pose. Sometimes there are poses that a student just should not be doing due to their own specific body.

  • Vision_Quest2

    Well, there is one exception. That is if the student was harboring a chronic illness, but due to being underinsured, NOBODY KNEW IT.

    I had been insulin resistant for years and my bloated muscles gave off a deceptive appearance of upper body strength.

    I really cannot fault these teachers, on that score. But I’d raised the stink heard round the world (for years) on being ambushed into a headstand and forced to hold it. I’d nearly gotten sued for slander by a nearby studio-not the only studio wherein the teacher did such ambushing, but by far the most greedy and egregious. Not one of the teachers had been a practicing physician; and never later went on to study Western medicine.

  • Frank

    As a teacher I’d never tell a student to push through pain. Reading this story, I felt rather sickened by Ms Vecsesi’s response. Her unwillingness to accept that maybe one of her teachers was out of line was, in my view unprofessional and immature. The fact she blackballed Oriol was an overreaction and inappropriate unless she had proof that he definitely scammed her studio.

  • Rainbow Patchouli Bracelet

    Agree on the hyperextending of the knee– that’s awful.

    On the “two shoulders in one line from the side”. This doesn’t make sense, as the line can be drawn from any angle and have it like it is in the pose above. There’s two points, one line, so the angle does not matter apparently.

    I dunno, but the pose I’ve seen of Tony Sanchez doing the posture looks much more in line with the way to do it than this picture above. He’s got his knee a bit bent, abdomen nearly flat across –which levels out the hips– makes for much more of a back bend rather than a side bend. Even Shirley MaClaine on the cover doesn’t have her hip as flared out as the model above.

  • Semper Fi

    I’ve always had issues with Bikram’s “lock the knee.” It sounds so constricting. I much prefer “engage your quadricepts to lift the knee. Agreed that her hyperflexed knee is awful. She won’t be doing this for very long without injury, that’s for sure. Her lower back also seems distorted and crunched. That intense face, too. Definitely not sthira sukham asanam.

  • Himix

    This bikram thing just seems so wrong to me… I mean look at this choudhury guy…
    Personally I don’t need a heater to do yoga, I prefer the energy from within, and for me a great class is where I don’t sweat at all… I do like the idea of yoga in speedos, but I guess not all do… some times it’s even awkward to have my shirt off.
    Yea, there’s certainly a lot of competition going on in any yoga studio… speaking of which: can you all do this bow pose??? man, my leg split would take years to get there, so please count my L5 out. Perhaps in the next life…
    Me, I like sticking to classes with the word Hatha in them. I keep away from ashtanga, flow, vinyasa, etc. as they are too advanced for me.
    But by all means: y’all go right ahead and enjoy yourselves!

  • Hanky Panky

    Most bikram yoga teachers are idiots and psychopaths.

  • shannon

    thats hilarious! something I do not need to try then….!

  • Rainbow Patchouli Bracelet

    Just the opposite from my experience. Some of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered. They’ve exceptional experience in a limited range of poses. Doing them over and over again, done the right way, in the long run, makes for an excellent teacher experience.

  • Think Again

    Or a very narrow one.

  • Joe

    2 sides to this. We’ve all heard stories of Bikram teachers pushing us maybe further than we should be going so if it’s as the guy said, he’s correct. On the other hand, in an age of ridiculously high lawsuits for relatively minor things, $1500 doesn’t sound all that much for him to settle on, especially since he was asking for more. It does also seem strange that he tried to join a new class after that. Not sure I would have been rushing back to class in his situation.

    I guess we’ll never know…

  • Vision_Quest2

    The blackballing by the Bikram community seems to be very real indeed. Something like that very nearly happened to me amongst a group of vinyasa teachers who have the same spinoff lineage. Because I bitched about something and then took it online to my blogsite, and later bitched about it some more. Go figure!

    But, since I believe lineage is about 9/10ths marketing, I solved that problem by skipping to some less-rapid-growth styles that my changing body seemed to take to better, anyway. And with all the home practice I’d been doing, I’ve developed my own slow flow fusion style.

    Also, it’s not totally about order of magnitude of lawsuit award. It’s about sending a message to the yoga teaching community.

  • Karly

    Karma is karma. No such thing as good or bad karma. It is neither punishment nor a bitch.

  • sarah

    not quite yoga related, but as someone with a very bad back I thought I’d take the opportunity to pass along this freebie Foundation Training video. I also like their book and DVD, but I have to admit I prefer to do this shorter routine instead of using those. You might have to work up to doing it in its entirety or with the range of motion they use.

    http://foundationtraining.com/video/foundation_training_12_minutes/

  • Tommyloyd

    Sorry he hurt his back. Some times darkness goes to the yoga room, no doubt, but most of the time it’s pretty good, it’s positive. I hope. We want to open themselves up to teachers so we can learn, but we have to be careful who we choose, there’s allot of different types of people out there. Hope he finds some good yoga and heals that L5 and is doing Camel in a few months!

  • arlet

    wow.. wow. this is crazy. not sure how I feel. it’s the student’s responsibility to know their body and their limits, but at the same time, no one should be pushed to the edge. http://extendyoga.com

  • It is impossible to judge yoga practice as the cure or cause of anything without knowing the student’s alignment competency. Alignment turns virtually every pose into a therapeutic experience. Lack of alignment, however, is essentially trauma inducing folly. If the teacher establishes Ahimsa (doing no harm) as the fundamental principle of their classes, that would go a long way to reducing the tendency of forcing postures beyond point where their students can maintain alignment. If neither the students or the teacher know what correct alignment is, in every moment of every pose, then it’s time to go back to the books until this basic requirement is met!

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