Going Beyond Bikram
  • December 1, 2016
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Going Beyond Bikram

“Turn and Face the Strange”

When I opened SHY in 2002 my brother, who doesn’t practice yoga or own a small business, advised me to make my schedule as simple as possible with the same class times every day. My brother and I share a yen for logic and organizational coherence but he’s a Taurus and I’m a Libra, meaning he is confident in his impulses and I am compelled to consider the pros and cons of every conceivable option when making decisions. The schedule I started with was nearly the antithesis of his suggestion and would have been completely so if my craving for symmetry hadn’t compelled me to make M/W and T/T schedules alike.

The reason for my brother’s suggestion was pure, simple logic: since it is not possible to make a schedule that will appeal to everyone it makes more sense to make one that meets the needs of the instructors and focus on attracting clients for whom that schedule works. It’s a practical approach but it felt limiting or short-sighted. I understand that no business can meet everyone’s needs but I didn’t see why we shouldn’t try to at least meet the needs of as many people as possible. Adding complexity seemed like a reasonable tradeoff for increasing the number of potential clients we would be able to attract.

One factor that helped mitigate the complexity of our schedule was that we used to only offer one kind of class: classic Bikram Yoga. That’s no longer the case. We added 60 minute classes, called Hot Fix into the mix about two years ago and we are now offering BEYOND Bikram, Hot Flow (Vinyasa) and Yin Yoga classes. Not to mention the occasional experimenting we’ve done with intermediate and advanced classes. Descriptions of these classes are available on About Our Yoga.

Making these kinds of changes pushes us even further away from being able to offer a simple or fixed schedule. Change necessitates change. Change is also disruptive, inconvenient and uncomfortable. So, why change?

Because it’s inevitable. Because it’s the only constant. Because it is in our nature. Because it is our nature. Because evolve or die.

Bikram Yoga is phenomenal. Arguably, it has done more to advance the interest, availability and opportunity of hatha yoga practice in the West than any other yoga style or method. In particular, Bikram Yoga made the practice of hatha yoga approachable and accessible to average people with average lifestyles and bodies. But even phenomena change.

The Bikram Yoga I teach today is different from the Bikram Yoga I taught in 2002. Not in form but in deeper, more fundamental ways. It’s still the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises performed in the same order. It’s still 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees. But it’s a kinder, gentler Bikram Yoga. We no longer make jokes about the room being a torture chamber or try to talk people out of leaving the room. We offer more postural modifications and variations than ever before and some of us have abandoned the familiar scripted instructions. Bikram Yoga has become less dogmatic, less rigid and less intense. Bikram Yoga has changed for the better. It has evolved.

But besides evolving simply because “everything must change,” Bikram Yoga has more recently evolved due to two significant factors. The first is that it has come out from under the thumb of a once-inspiring founder who turned out to be an abusive serial predator. The other, more significant factor is in abundant evidence everywhere you look. Hatha yoga has taken our culture by storm. The number of yoga styles, practitioners, instructors and studios has increased exponentially. What this means to SHY is that we exist in a vastly more saturated and competitive environment than ever before while simultaneously seeing a more sophisticated clientele. Even just five years ago the majority of new clients we saw came to us with no prior yoga experience. Today, almost everyone who walks in the door has had some prior yoga experience.

The changes we’ve been making during the last couple of years, as well as the changes we are will continue to employ, are in response to these changing circumstances and they are not being taken lightly. Our challenge is how to respond to the changing market while continuing to meet the needs of our existing clients, to whom we feel much gratitude and loyalty.

We are meeting this challenge by expanding the range of yoga styles we offer as well as expanding our services to include more individual attention and supplementary workshops. We also see the new class styles as being complimentary to Bikram Yoga more than alternatives to it. Any new classes that may be offered will be taught by instructors with an understanding of and appreciation for Bikram Yoga.

We recognize that some of you may prefer to only practice Bikram Yoga. That’s great because we are continuing to offer more Bikram Yoga classes than any other hot yoga studio in town. At the same time, we hope some of you will give the new classes a chance and discover the benefits of expanding your practice. Likewise, we hope that those new clients that may be drawn by the new classes will give Bikram Yoga it’s due consideration and discover what an amazing program it is.

Our ultimate goal— our only goal— is to continue to thrive, as we have these last 14 plus years, as a yoga community. In order for that to happen, we must thrive as a yoga business and, as such, be able to respond to the many external factors on which all community based businesses depend.

Written by Eric

Eric Jennings practices and teaches yoga in the style and method originated by Bishnu Ghosh, acclaimed Indian physical culturist. He holds certifications from Ghosh Yoga College of India (2016), Yogic Physical Culture Academy (2013) and Bikram Yoga, Inc. (2001). He has studied with Muktamala Mitra, Jared McCann, Mary Jarvis, Tony Sanchez, Marlysa Sullivan, William Huffschmidt, Yoganand Michael Carrol and Bikram Choudhury. With a background in theatre and performance one of Eric's strengths as an instructor is his ability to offer clear and accessible instruction making all practitioners, no matter their level of experience, feel safe, supported and encouraged in their practice.