July/August 2004 Volume 3/Number 4
Bikram Tackles Martial Artists Paradise Warrior Retreat Bikram Choudury
By Julie Deife & Bob Belinoff
Without the fanfare of a 500 gun salutes that he would likely relish, Bikram greeted a small group of martial artists on Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend at The Paradise Warrior Retreat in Malibu. Why did this yoga legend, who can easily make $50,000 a weekend, as he reminded us, take time for this small gathering -- gratis?
Because, he said, it's a beautiful day, and I have something to say.
And say it he did. And he was terrific. And the little group who had been an hour earlier grappling on the floor, kicking, flipping and throwing one another on a mat, sat transfixed as this fashionable, mysterious stranger in white expounded for well over an hour on the history, the beauty and the power of yoga - to heal the body, to change the world.
Known to most of the world for the franchising of Bikram Yoga, the hatha yoga system he founded and owns, and his oft-reported subsequent legal machinations, I had never before heard him talk about much more than asana and his own accomplishments. But there is heart and yoga intelligence behind the bravado and a message most of his thousands of students may never before have heard.
He doesn't preach spirituality, said Bikram, because he doesn't think most westerners are ready for the ancient teachings of Vedanta (the foundation of yoga, transmitted through the ether to rishis), which he grew up with in India. Then he literally leapt into a lengthy description of Vedanta. He talked for over an hour before asking three of his prize students (winners of the 2003 International Championship and their trainer) to demonstrate the art and the movement of yoga asana.
He used analogies from cars to swimming pools to talk about power, strength and potential. As humans, he said, we have body, soul and mind. The mind is the link between the body and soul. It should be our friend, like gas is to a car. But really the ultimate goal is self-realization. To get to self-realization, we need strength.
Vendanta for yogis, he said, is mainly expressed in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali and he outlined the main branches: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, hatha yoga, raja, nada. Then there are the eight limbs known as Ashtanga yoga, all of which he clicked off with complete confidence of his understanding including childhood anecdotes to prove it. He explained that Bikram Yoga is a derivation of hatha yoga, one he has tailored to be most helpful for the mind and the body of the westerner, to help maintain, improve and regain health.
This verbal demonstration sans notes of his mastery of the material and his belief in what he teaches was followed by a non-stop demonstration of the Bikram yoga method of 26 postures, with the Master himself adjusting his students as he explained the health benefits of each posture and related personal experiences such as his own ability to take each posture to new heights, lengths and depths. Behind the bravado, Bikram has much to say. By tuning out the bravado I was able to hear and appreciate him.
It was a non-stop, almost stunning virtuoso performance for the twenty or so attending. And in the 100+ degree room, he barely broke a sweat.
Bikram is in the lineage of Bishnu Charan Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship.