It is with much sadness that we see Bikram Choudhury being sued by another woman for sexual harassment and rape. As much as I’d like to avoid drawing attention to the situation I am compelled to make a statement. There are some in the Bikram Yoga community who are advocating a neutral silence and letting the lawsuits play out in the courts. Very often, civil suits like this are settled out of court and the truth about the circumstances that lead to them never comes out. I know that many in our community are hoping for such an outcome, where the controversy will simply fade away and the potential damage to the Bikram Yoga brand minimized. But with questions of sexual harassment and rape, silence is not an option. These issues are so prevalent in our culture precisely because so many of us aren’t willing to discuss them openly and frankly.
I first posted about this issue on this site in March of 2013 and again on Elephant Journal in April 2014. What I didn’t state in my original public message was that at the same time as posting it Bikram Yoga Decatur formally ended our affiliation with Bikram, Inc. We are not a franchise of Bikram, Inc., we have stopped referring people to the Bikram Yoga teacher training program and we do not support them financially in any direct way. It is reasonably arguable that our continuing use of Bikram’s name in our company name and yoga description is providing indirect support and benefit to Bikram, Inc. But Bikram Yoga is more than a brand and more than one man’s legacy. It’s a method and a system that we have been practicing and promoting for more than a decade because we believe in it. [update 03-22-15 – Since originally posting this article we have decide to change our business name. We will be announcing this decision soon.]
Present day transgressions do not invalidate past good deeds. I am grateful to Bikram Choudhury for having brought this yoga system to us and I am honored to be associated with the hatha yoga lineage from which it comes. As I’ve stated previously, it is not my prerogative, nor my intention, to weigh in on Bikram’s liability as alleged in these lawsuits. But I also stand in support of the women who are speaking out.
Too often, and this case is no exception, making public accusations of rape results in the accuser being questioned, scrutinized, shamed and intimidated. The reality is that false accusations of rape are rare and, in most cases, there is very little incentive to make them. Another reality is that rape can be extremely difficult to prove, which is why so many such cases are tried in civil versus criminal courts where the standards of proof are much higher. Clearly, no matter what transpired, these women feel violated and they deserve to have their claims heard and investigated. As the numbers of accusers coming forward grows, the veracity of each of them is enhanced. At some point one has to abandon compassion to assume that multiple women are willing to risk a protracted and humiliating public scrutiny in order to engage in a conspiracy with little certainty of success.
This web site is intended to promote our yoga and our studio and we will continue to do so with an emphasis on the pleasures and benefits of practicing Bikram Yoga but we also want to assure our clients that we are not unaware of nor unwilling to address these difficult issues that have embroiled the larger Bikram Yoga community. We are paying attention and continue to believe that our best response is to stay on our mission to make Bikram Yoga available in a safe and approachable manner to as many people as possible.