Trigger warning: mention of rape, sexual harassment, and links to graphic descriptions.
This Vanity Fair article on Bikram’s rape accusations hit the interwebs last week with, well, not much fanfare. Maybe it’s because it’s holiday time and no one wants to hear about it, maybe it’s because you have to subscribe to get the whole article (unless you march out to grab the physical magazine when it hits stands, which hardly anyone does anymore) or maybe it’s because we’re already desensitized to yoga scandals, especially ones involving Bikram Choudhury, to the point that it’s not news anymore.
Maybe it’s not news, but it should be. Because when the yoga community is all wrapped up in debating whether or not teachers can have sex with their students, there are some real injustices and seriously heinous crimes going down. In the past few years, five women have come forward and filed lawsuits against Bikram Choudhury, with charges of sexual harassment and rape.
I’m not saying you must have this on your mind 24/7, nor do you have to get on your soapbox or write a 3000 word dissertation making a case for either side, but ignoring it really isn’t a way to make progress either. Details of sexual harassment, abuse of power, and rape are hard to take in any form but when it comes to yoga, many of us don’t want to believe any of it could be true, because in yoga, we are asked to let everything go, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open, and there’s a certain trust we put into our teachers and yoga environments to support all of this vulnerability, even if it’s just holding the space.
So hearing about a major, and yes, well-respected yoga teacher/yogapreneur accused of exploiting students, targeting weaknesses and overstepping that sacred boundary between teacher/student, guru/disciple, power-hungry overlord/servant is understandably on the ‘Things I never want to talk about or hear about ever’ list.
But, here it is, my part in keeping this in the yoga news cycle, because rape is NOT OK. Sexual harassment is NOT OK. If you think we shouldn’t be talking about this in the yogasphere, that’s fine. But if you ask me, avoiding the conversation, whether Bikram is guilty or not, is exactly what’s wrong with the wanderlusting, Rumi-quoting, all-encompassing love and light attitude that seems to pervade the yoga community.
Besides that, on the practical side, Bikram, the man and the yoga, play a major role in many people’s lives today from practitioners to teachers to studio owners to people looking to try yoga for the first time. The empire has been on shaky legs already and this whole thing could have a greater impact than we can anticipate.
He is an outrageous person, but the accusations aren’t, and shouldn’t be considered as such. Maybe not much more can be added to the conversation at this point, but this is just too big to bury under “Oh that’s just Bikram.”
image via Vanity Fair
- Bikram Choudhury Accused of Rape in Two New Lawsuits
- Former Bikram Legal Advisor Files Extremely Disturbing Lawsuit Over Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, Assault
- Bikram’s Survival Depends on You