A letter from a Bikram Yoga teacher addresses the greater Bikram community, calling on them to drop their fears, to speak up and sign the petition asking that Bikram Choudhury step down, shedding light on the shift that is happening within the Bikram yogasphere. Shared Tuesday on the newly created The Request for Bikram to Step Down in Respect of Ethics and Yoga facebook page (echoing the title of the Change.org petition) the letter from Emily Lifshitz points to the collective “silent consent” of students, teachers and studio owners who have refrained from taking action or voicing their opinions after multiple rape and sexual abuse allegations have been brought against Choudhury.
“This is a pattern of behavior that is incredibly disturbing no matter how much you love Bikram the man or the yoga,” Lifshitz writes, appealing to those who are either afraid or unmoved to lend their voices in support of Choudhury’s resignation and consequent ousting as Bikram Yoga’s leader.
She addresses the legitimate fears that some may have by doing so: “We fear that if we admit the man is flawed, that our yoga must be flawed too, the way we practice, the way we teach, the lessons we have learned and the profound changes many of us have seen in our lives are somehow void. We fear if we take away the man, somehow we lose the yoga, we lose who we are collectively.”
But reassures that by collectively taking action there is hope: “I think if all these silently dissenting studio owners and teachers came forward with one voice, we would be a force to be reckoned with, a genuine alternative.”
The facebook page also shares links to copies of the lawsuits which are viewable online: the Sarah Baughn complaint filed March 7, 2013; Jane Doe No. 1 filed May 7, 2013; Jane Doe No. 2 filed May 6, 2013; Jane Doe No. 3 filed November 25, 2013; and the most recent Jjill Lawler suit filed February 13, 2015.
Just last week, a few days after the sixth lawsuit was filed against Choudhury, we had asked the yoga world to join in conversation and open dialogue since the Bikram community was notably silent on the matter. Since then, a discussion has opened up, a petition was started and a shift is starting to happen. However, despite the lawsuits and recent increased media attention, Choudhury’s calendar remains booked with seminars and trainings abroad through June 2015 and there has been no official statement from Bikram Yoga, Inc.
In addition to the Change.org petition, which, at time of this post’s publication is at 466 signatures, another petition was created demanding that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office take the accusations of rape and sexual abuse seriously and conduct a full investigation of Bikram Choudhury. The petition can be found here.
The full unedited letter from Bikram Yoga teacher Emily Lifshitz can be read below.
“I am signing the petition demanding Bikram Choudhury to step down, and I hope other Bikram studio owners, teachers, and students will too.
The past few years have seen an ever-growing number of women come forward with accusations of rape and sexual abuse – many have come forward, all with their own experiences of abuse, and it is a pattern that we cannot deny and should not tolerate. It’s sad that all of us who have gone through teacher training turned a blind eye to his rambling “lectures” that are deeply discriminatory towards women, people of color, and the LGBT community. Bikram is a hateful, hurtful person who has no place as a leader of a yoga community.
It’s hard: on the one hand, this is the man who brought us the yoga practice that we love and for many of us has completely transformed our lives; but on the other, we have a man who we can see has a history of boastful discrimination and a clear pattern of sexual abuse. This is a pattern of behavior that should not be excused by the wonderful yoga he gave to us, or any personal stories of likeability and connection: this is a pattern of behavior that is incredibly disturbing no matter how much you love Bikram the man or the yoga.
Lately, an interview from 2013 has been floating around as a “defense” of Bikram, or at least a defense of the Bikram community staying the course and not rocking the boat – we share it to reassure ourselves, a collective pat on the back. Unfortunately, in the time since the interview, the Bikram community hasn’t supported the women who have come forward – in fact, the victims have been ostracized and actively harassed. The Bikram community hasn’t separated the man from the yoga – Bikram still has thousands of teachers who are loyal defenders, willing to turn a blind eye to his behavior. The so-called “senior teachers” have been the most loyal – some to the point of obstructing justice – and there has been a severe lack of leadership. We haven’t taken ownership of the yoga or our practice. “The man is not the yoga” is an empty platitude when we refuse to address the man.
There are many studio owners and teachers who have quietly turned away – changing the names of their studios or offering their teaching at non-Bikram studios. Our community is the poorer for losing their voices, because theirs is a voice we need to hear. There are many studios now offering abridged versions of the 90-minute series, or styles of yoga in addition to the traditional Bikram method: and we are the poorer for not hearing their voices. There are many of us regular Bikram yogis – good people – who see the Kool-Aid for what it is but have silently just kept on going, teaching, practicing, keeping his name on the door, and giving our silent consent to his behavior.
I think if all these silently dissenting studio owners and teachers came forward with one voice, we would be a force to be reckoned with, a genuine alternative.
But so far, we haven’t. It’s shameful that this petition doesn’t already have thousands of signatures already. And why? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I think the biggest one is fear.
We fear that if we admit the man is flawed, that our yoga must be flawed too, the way we practice, the way we teach, the lessons we have learned and the profound changes many of us have seen in our lives are somehow void. We fear if we take away the man, somehow we lose the yoga, we lose who we are collectively.
We have seen how Bikram has exiled even his most beloved students and sued studios and teachers who have dared to venture out on their own. It’s not just Bikram’s wrath we fear: some of his most loyal defenders are also the loudest: we fear being publicly ostracized by people we disagree with (and maybe even dislike) because maybe the other people we do like in our community will distance themselves from us too out of that same fear.
And if we’re ostracized from the larger Bikram community, we feel that we’ve lost something important.
We fear that we will split into factions, that we will disagree on theory and practice or how to train our future teachers, we fear that we will be left without leaders and inspiration. We fear that we will lose our history. We fear without a central leader we can rally around, we will fall apart. We collectively don’t know who we are without Bikram, and that’s a problem. It’s scary to be groundless, to not have the answers readily given, to go into the unknown, not knowing whether the ties that bind us together now will hold through the storm. We are attached to things as they are, and avoiding a transformation that must happen, and will happen, whether we want it or not.
The studios and teachers who have dropped his name are doing just fine. These studios and teachers are still loved by others that remain in the Bikram community. These studios and teachers are still loved by their students and continue to attract more. So what are we so afraid of?
We have hidden behind a “wait and see” attitude too long. We are actively hiding behind a false compassion, an “idiot compassion” – compassion without clear wisdom. Idiot compassion is enabling, it is selfish: it avoids confronting the problem because we fear possibly painful change while enabling the other to continue their destruction. True compassion isn’t always comfortable: it is gentle and loving, but it is also strong and firm, and yes, sometimes painful.
If we as a community were really interested in being yogic or compassionate, if we really think that our yoga practice applies “off the mat”, we would stand up to Bikram and those who have helped him in his destruction. We owe the victims of his sexual abuse our compassion and support and we owe it to ourselves and our students to create a safe environment.
And to the most loyal of his supporters: if you love Bikram – not the yoga, but the man – you will want to help him. Maybe helping him avoid responsibility for his actions in civil or criminal court will help him materially, but in enabling him to continue on like this, you are denying him the chance to see his mistakes and fix them, to hit rock bottom and then have the chance for a new beginning.
I urge the Bikram community to sign this petition. Until now, we have all been afraid to stand up, to raise our hands without the others. Stand up and own your yoga.”