March 25, 2013

Looking Beyond Bikram.

I understand that the guru-student relationship has deep roots in yogic tradition. Call me hopelessly American, but I don’t think these power dynamics serve student or teacher.

So, Bikram Choudhury is being sued for sexual harassment.

Bikram’s patented sequence of postures, performed in miserably hot and humid conditions, have made him a wealthy man. His inappropriate comments about himself and students, as well as rumors that he has pressured students for sex, have cast a shadow over his success.

Benjamin Lorr published an expose on Bikram entitled Hell-Bent. In my review of Lorr’s book, I concluded that Bikram was a mix of good and bad; I’ll stick to that. Bikram’s skill and style have made him famous. But we chose to make him an icon. He presented a path to the suffering; we bent over backwards trying to follow it.

And now we get to watch him fall, call him names and laugh.

That doesn’t feel right. We’re consumers, practitioners and people presumably seeking a higher path. We bear responsibility for our choices and behavior. So, let’s ask how we can help the right elements thrive and the others fade away.

What are the hot takeaways for those of us striving to stay mindful?

1. Watch out for gurus, especially the self-ordained.

When will we learn? Every human is just that. Humans have ego issues, even (especially?) yoga teachers. Many believe success means filling classes. But the bigger we grow, the bigger the risk that ego will trip us up. It’s hard to stay humble with hundreds bowing at your feet. Most of us don’t have that ability; the few who do may be worthy of our admiration but never our worship.

I understand that the guru-student relationship has deep roots in yogic tradition. Call me hopelessly American, but I don’t think these power dynamics serve student or teacher. My mentors practice rather than preach.

2. Don’t support teachers and styles that don’t support you.

Check out the quiet, sustainable community class. You’ll probably get more individualized attention and can feel confident you’re not supporting corporate practices that don’t serve the greater good.

If you go to a festival or conference, think about why you want to attend a workshop. Be honest. From what you know of the presenter, is she someone you admire for reasons other than bendiness? Are you going so you tell people you took a class from this teacher? Or because you believe what you learn will enhance your practice and your life?

Flagstaff Yoga Festival’s mission is to promote the humble teachers hidden among us. No rock star teachers need apply. There’s a conference I can support.

3. Yoga can’t always replace therapy.

If you find yourself returning to teachers who degrade students or styles of yoga that ignore basic health and safety principles, you’re probably not getting what you need from your practice. It would be nice if yoga could eliminate the need for therapy and medical care. But that’s not true for everyone. Some of us wind up needing therapy and medical care to recover from ill-advised yoga instruction.

4. Even if you can’t find compassion for those who offend you, try not to delight in their suffering.

Those who hurt others are often deeply wounded. Yes, it’s our responsibility as adults to address these wounds and how they affect others. Still, many people don’t have that courage and insight. I find that sad.

How can we keep ourselves from celebrating the poor choices and ill-fortune of others? The Yoga Sutras offer some tips. The principles paraphrased below offer a good guide to negotiating life in a community.

Rejoice with the joyful.

Find compassion for the suffering.

Honor the righteous.

Remain indifferent to the unrighteous.

Of course, there are times when we need to speak out to try and prevent further harm. But whatever we focus upon is nourished by our attention. So, why not search out and celebrate the honorable instead?

When we look beyond the surface, it’s not hard to find.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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