PHILADELPHIA -- As the economy was tanking, it was good to get away from New York, spending Saturday with Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram's Yoga College of India. I was not expecting a quiet "ommmm" incense filled seminar. No. Being familiar with the method, I was ready for his tough love, truth telling yoga teaching -- "punch in the head enlightenment" practice.
The well known "torture chamber yoga," that has over 1700 certified schools worldwide and is a known enemy of cottage cheese thighs, flabby stomachs, high blood pressure, and many other human ailments including neurological ticks, depression and "bad backs" is as loved as ever.
His yogic series has been approved by the American Medical Association, and of course his is not the only method that works, but unless you're an idiot (very harsh word), you start to understand that this Hatha Yoga (means physical practice), when done properly, can integrate your body, mind and spirit.
Earlier in the lecture he explained, well yes, the meaning of life: Truth. "The life journey first needs a good foundation." He also explained the need for proper training, from caring professionals rather than doting parents. "Parent's love and compassion destroy children's lives." Why? Because they can't/don't always tell their children the truth. The culture of India, where one finds a guru (teacher) early in life, is exposed to that guru's teaching: The truth, even when it hurts.
A parent's dream is for the child to become a doctor, right? Bikram told us of the time he told an assemblage of American Medical Association doctors that "you guys are nothing but licensed drug dealers. You prescribe pills to people even though you know the side effects of putting people's immune systems in a coma. Shame on you."
He treated his good friend and head cardiologist at UCLA medical center for high blood pressure, not with pills, but with a month of yoga that dropped the friend's pressure below mine.
Bikram isn't known for keeping his opinions to himself. Midway through the Philadelphia seminar, while some yogis were on stage demonstrating, he asked us, almost as an aside, if we were going to let our treasury be looted again in the last days of the administration, this time for $700 Billion.
Ouch, the truth hurts.
As for the yoga, I can testify that it is true what you've heard: It sheds pounds, calms the mind, helps you stretch, strengthen and understand your body. And yes, it hurts.
In India, after treating individuals during his earlier career with the same ailments doctors treat patients for today, he wanted a way to treat many people at once, and in a way to prevent the illnesses from developing in the first place.
And how did he get to the United States? Richard Nixon. Nixon gave him an unexpected green card after curing the famous thrombophelebitis that almost killed him during the infamous Kennedy/Nixon debates. Bikram has gone on to treat other celebs such as such as Indira Gandhi, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John McEnroe, Serena Williams, Quincy Jones and Shirley McClain, Madonna, and on and on.
His 30+ years in the United States has produced hundreds of thousands of regular Bikram Yogis who take his classes, often like devotees, the Philadelphia seminar attendees were shocked when he announced that, "Oh by the way, this is my last seminar, after Orlando."
As the audience gasped, one of his handlers reminded him that he will be doing a seminar for 10,000 people in London in October (even though Bikram tried to cancel it). "Oh, that's right." He said. "Then I'm done. My teachers are so good now, I can spend more time with my family."
This is hardly the end, however. His trademarked sequence of 26 postures that he selected and choreographed from Hatha yoga (which developed over thousands of years in India) that stimulate every system in the body, was passed on to other teachers starting in 1994. Now, there are over 5000. The approach has evolved into a system where teachers receive nine weeks of training and serve a six-month apprenticeship at a Bikram Yoga location, and are recertified every two years. Once teachers launch their own studios, they must adhere to strict standards that keep the brand unified, like a franchise. No cheating.
So no need to worry. Although his seminar days are nearing completion, you can still take his classes in L.A., or visit your nearest Bikram torture chamber to stretch, sweat, and work that body yours into good health -- and get a little truth from your local guru, even if it hurts.
Your friend, Anita Thompson
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