The lawsuit against Bikram Choudhury, which alleges the hot-yoga pioneer sexually harassed and abused a former student, has been heavily reported on in the press.
But the massive, passionate community of teachers and students who practice Bikram, whom Choudhury’s fall from grace affects the most, has largely been ignored.
We checked in with Tricia Donegan, one of New York’s top Bikram instructors, and the owner of Bikram Yoga Lower East Side, and asked her to weigh in on how the scandal has affected her studio—and how she sees this impacting the larger Bikram community. Here’s what she had to say:
How has the lawsuit affected the day-to-day at your studio? Are students upset and asking you about it? Nothing has changed in my studio on a day-to-day basis. We have always been grateful for this series Bikram has brought to us while we practice for ourselves. We practice confidence within vulnerability. We practice so that we can do more than we think we can. In the Lower East Side, we own ourselves, our bodies, and we have taken ownership of the yoga we practice. I’m sure people are upset, though I have fielded many more questions from the press and from non-practitioners than I have from my students.
How do you respond to the questions and concerns people do have? These are my thoughts: Men continue to wield power over women in every realm of our society and in every workplace. There is somewhat more outcry when harassment is egregious, but on a day-to-day basis, there still exists pervasive sexual harassment in workplaces throughout this country. There is no reason to think that the yoga business, the yoga world, doesn’t have these same problems. This is an important opportunity for our community to recognize, reveal, and discuss this issue and hopefully create change.
Do you feel like you need to distance yourself from Bikram Choudhury or stand behind him as a community? We need to be able to separate the practice we believe in—a practice we believe improves health and well-being—from the issue of sexual harassment. Stopping the yoga will not change the power dynamics that allow sexual harassment to exist.
Going forward, how do you see this affecting your studio and the larger Bikram community? I am a woman and I own a Bikram Yoga business where I ensure an environment free of sexual harassment. It’s an issue I have had to address within my business, and I have.
The Bikram Yoga community very much believes in this yoga because it is healing and that will go unchanged. Yoga is spread by gurus and led by instructors, but gurus and instructors do not own the yoga. I teach my students the importance of making their yoga their own. I want my students to own their yoga and own their achievements and their failures.
In terms of community and reputation, it is important to remember how terribly difficult, expensive, and isolating it is to speak out against sexual harassment. It is potentially devastating in a workplace. It takes a community to ensure resources and support are in place for women to challenge sexual harassment without fearing for their livelihood. Right now, I think the Bikram Yoga community recognizes that. We are invested in this yoga and in wellness. This is an opportunity for our community to look within itself, and to become healthier and stronger. —Lisa Elaine Held