Why Bikram Isn’t Yoga

In the West, the word yoga has become interchangeable with asana. Asanas are the postures people do in yoga classes but true yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yoke” or “union” and it implies an integration of body, mind and spirit.

There can be no real yoga without a spiritual practice. Spiritual meditation and reflection are basic tenants of yoga. At it’s core, yoga isn’t about stretching, pulling and flexiness. It’s indirectly about health but it’s really about spirituality and it’s deeply rooted in meditation and the Hindu religion.

As a practice, Bikram has the least amount of spiritual direction and focus of any yoga system out there. Bikram Choudhury is so specific about how he wants the Bikram practice taught that he has scripted dialogue for his classes. Once his students open a Bikram certified studio they are obligated to teach the asanas in the order he prescribes, for the length of time he prescribes and using the words he’s given them. There is no mention of spirituality in the Bikram dialogue and I don’t think that’s an oversight.

Charlie Kaufman said that politicians promote things they want by making them look like things we want. I’d argue that that’s the definition of capitalism and that Bikram has excelled in this domain.  He’s gotten rich selling us health and “yoga.” I don’t intend to demonize him particularly by saying that. Sadly, I think that’s what yoga has become everywhere. It’s become “money” couched in terms of health/strength/curative properties, etc. and the spiritual practice has been sidelined. This is definitely truer in some studios than others but it’s 100% true in Bikram studios across the country. Spirituality is not an intrinsic part of the Bikram practice and no one has to reflect or mediate for a second in order to participate.

Now, here’s the thing: Whatever. So what if Bikram isn’t yoga in the truest sense of the word? That doesn’t mean that Bikram practitioners can’t be spiritual. They can bring their own spiritual practice to Bikram and the practice of pushing through 90 minutes of the same 26 poses every day creates its own meditative qualities.

I like that Bikram focuses on the body by pushing it to extremes. I go into that hot room and there’s no room for anything in my mind except my breath, movement, stillness, focus and balance. Bikram classes push me to the limits of my ability and my endurance and sometimes they open spiritual doorways in me. But this is because of who I am, not because of the practice of Bikram.

Bikram can be a meditative practice in spite of itself but true yoga requires spiritual intent. Without a spiritual component, Bikram cannot be yoga.

4 thoughts on “Why Bikram Isn’t Yoga

  1. Thanks for the post – How does what you say fit in with the 8 limbs? I agree that they are asanas. (Yoga asanas?) I do Bikram all the time and think it’s meditative and spiritual. Bikram said as much on his 60 minutes interview. Did you see it? He says something like the asanas knock the door to the spirit. (He also says “it’s the only way” to knock the door of the spirit which I know isn’t true.) Also, I guess the term “spiritual” is so big and broad that it means different things to different people. It means something specific to me which I get out of Bikram practice big time. But it means different thing to different people as I said.

    Hey killer list on the right there!! Thanks again!

    • I agree that Bikram can be extremely meditative and spiritual in the way that marathon runners might find running to be spiritual because the action of their body puts their mind in a meditative place. But it isn’t the actual running that is spiritual. People can run without mediating and people can do Bikram with no spiritual effects because Bikram’s dialogue mentions nothing spiritual or meditative. True yoga practices give the physical asanas a spiritual element and yoga teachers frequently lead classes with a meditative intent. “Surrender” and “letting go” are big ones. Bikram has made his practice strictly physical. Like you, I also love Bikram yoga and I find my practice to be very meditative but that’s because of what we bring to it and what we need from it.
      Thanks for coming by :)

  2. Pingback: Is bikram yoga: Part 2 « Gypsy Queen

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