Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

yoga Archive



November 2019



Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator Is a Lesson in the Dangers of Hero-Worshipping

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

I first learned of Bikram Choudhury’s less than stellar reputation while I was doing yoga teacher training in 2012. Much of the general disdain for Bikram as a person stemmed from his efforts to copyright his signature sequence of twenty-six yoga poses and two breathing exercises, which is always taught in the exact same order. Bikram didn’t actually create any of the poses, and accounts from India suggest that the sequence wasn’t of his making either. Beyond that, his reputation for sexual harassment and climbing on his students, as well as his company’s stranglehold on studios that wish to teach Bikram yoga, led my teachers to recommend that we avoid any affiliation with his name.

The new documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator sheds light on the most egregious behavior from the founder of the craze that helped popularize yoga in America. The film includes many accounts from students and teachers with first-hand experience with Bikram, as well as many of his accusers. Through the narrative, a simple pattern emerges. Bikram is a grifter and a creep, a very talented one at that.

Though Bikram himself unsurprisingly does not appear in the documentary, archival footage from past interviews paints a compelling portrait of his character. Bikram chased wealth, and believed himself to be above any notion of consequence. He made his fortune through expensive teacher trainings and licensing his name to studios who wished to teach his practice.

Where the documentary is less effective is in explaining the simple fact that association with Bikram is a choice for yoga teachers, not a requirement with which one’s livelihood hangs in the balance. This puzzling dynamic is repeatedly on display throughout the documentary, particularly with interviewees who don’t have harassment allegations against Bikram. Many knew he was a bad guy and chose to remain affiliated with him anyway, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

These people could have opened up studios of their own, teaching practically any other style of yoga, incorporating all the poses that Bikram teaches, just as countless other studios do. Much of the narrative centers around why all the people stayed in this destructive clique, victims or otherwise. To some extent, it’s refreshing to see people unafraid to be openly conflicted about a man they’d put on a pedestal for so long.

There’s a certain urge to call the nature of the Bikram yoga circle messy, people who came together ostensibly to improve their own lives and their health. The documentary isn’t interested in differentiating sinners from saints, presenting the conflicted feelings of Bikram’s victims alongside those who remain devoted fans. For those who don’t want any part of that, there is, and always has been, alternative ways to practice yoga.

Bikram is a destructive force in the yoga world, but the documentary makes a compelling case that many of his followers aren’t particularly faithful to Krishnamacharya either. Plenty of people practice yoga to improve their lives. There are many who go to the studio simply to show off their beautiful bodies encased in expensive leggings. Viewers will undoubtedly be turned off to Bikram yoga as a style, but the broader takeaway should be to be cautious of those who practice yoga not out of mindfulness, but self-interest and greed.

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December 2014



Top 40 Radio Stations Do Not Belong in the Yoga Studio

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

Like the countless styles of yoga, there are many choices for music to accompany one’s practice. Being largely a matter of personal preference, it’s hard to really reject certain genres entirely. I know teachers who frequently play rap music and heavy metal and it works. That might not be for everyone, but an instructor that makes that choice typically understands that it must work toward the larger image that they wish to project for their class. If you want to play Judas Priest or Wu Tang, you need to own that decision.

I recently took a class where the instructor put the radio on to a top 40 station to accompany her class. Being somewhat of a countercultural figure, naturally I wasn’t too amused by this decision, which was initially exacerbated by the instructor’s tardiness. This played into the bigger problem that was radiating from said instructor.


Music is a big part of a yoga class. It sets the tone and is the constant presence that lingers over each student when the teacher isn’t speaking (which should happen at times). It isn’t more important than say, the actual yoga, but it’s easily something that can derail an entire class.

Adam Levine makes headlines for his love of yoga. That’s great. Doesn’t mean that Maroon 5’s “Animals” with lyrics like “You’re a drug that’s killing me I cut you out entirely. But I get so high when I’m inside of you” belongs in a yoga studio.

Which doesn’t mean that Maroon 5 needs to be banned entirely. Just that songs that reference obsessive tendencies, drugs, and coitus should be screened and promptly removed from any playlist destined to be played in yoga. That’s the downside of playing a radio station. You don’t get to pick what comes on and with something like top 40, you can be sure that much of it is inappropriate for your class.

I put a great deal of effort into my playlists, which are generally a mix of 60s rock, 80s New Wave, and Indie music. It’s not effort that every instructor needs to have, but it makes a difference. Over the years, I’ve got as many compliments for my music as the yoga itself (make of that what you will). As a big fan of The Smiths, I know that they only have a couple of songs that can be played in a yoga setting. So “Stretch Out and Wait” gets played while “Some Girls are Bigger than Others” does not.

That’s not to say I haven’t made playlist mistakes. Once I played “Yesterday” by The Beatles, which came on during seated poses which didn’t help matters. Needless to say, I made the room laugh by apologizing for playing a sad song during hip openers.

Each yoga class should in some way, shape, or form reflect the personality of the instructor. What does Top 40 radio reflect? The United States of Generica? Something you can hear anywhere? I think so.

You might at this point think that I’m being too harsh on Top 40, especially the songs that might be acceptable. What if the instructor loves Taylor Swift? That’s fine. The presence of TSwift should be because the instructor wanted her there. Not because she happened to be on the radio (which oddly enough didn’t happen in this class despite the low odds).

Yoga classes take effort. They should also look like they take effort. People are giving you their money and their time for a service. Throwing on the radio shows that you couldn’t be bothered to be in control of your class. Which in turn might inspire a student to stay home with a yoga DVD and Ms. Swift.

When you don’t put any effort into parts of your class, it shows. Who wants to hold a balancing pose while the insufferable Calvin Harris is blasting in the background? Not I!

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