Protection

“I stand in front of you. I feel the force of the blow.” – Massive Attack, Protection

I’ve been in love twice in my life and both times we were bezzies before we were lovers. (“Lovers”! Ick!)

The first time we broke up because our backgrounds and our futures were so entirely different, and we were young and still growing; and didn’t realise what we had; and disrespected our relationship with drugs and looking elsewhere.

But there was a time we would have done anything for each other and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together and I believed that he was the most flawed yet all-round beautiful thing I had ever held.

The second time we broke up because he developed a profound mental illness and neither of us knew how to live without control over that; or how to recapture the trust in our future together; and he needed to get out and I needed to protect myself.

But I believe he was the most flawed yet all-round beautiful thing I have ever held and I would still do almost anything for him.

Sometimes I think that my story since then can be summed up as the need to protect oneself being stronger than the need to live.

Everyone has a heartbreak sob story. Boo hoo. Mine happened too late in my life and too early in the history of popular culture to become a reason to audition for X Factor. Thankfully. I guess.

But still, it anchored itself so deeply in my core and fibre that it became a form of paralysis.

Chief among my motivations, had I only known it, was that I should make no sudden movements for fear of getting cut again on a jagged edge. Life is a nightmare when you can’t locate the wound let alone stem the bleeding.

So far, so self-indulgent.

Why is this relevant to a blog about my personal experience of bikram yoga? Perhaps it’s not relevant at all. Perhaps nothing is irrelevant. Perhaps I am putting this down here because I have to let it go. (“Let go”! Ick!) Perhaps this blog is a safe place in the same way the hot room is supposed to be a safe place. (And this is a totally separate issue but before the recent rape allegations I would not have used “probably” in that sentence.) Perhaps the changes I see in the hot room mirror scare me ‘cos I think I’m returning to the body that left me unguarded and allowed me to get hurt so badly.

Maybe when I feel sick, sad, angry, confused and overwhelmed in camel or floor bow or the one before spine twist (“The one before spine twist”! Ick!) What I’m actually feeling is vulnerable and – even though my body is fighting, fighting, fighting me to let go of that protection – vulnerability is the most confusing and alarming state of all.

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Follow up: clarifying a few points in my letter to the Janes

I received an email from a friend, studio owner and teacher letting me know she had some issues with my blog post entitled “A letter to Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2”. I have already written her an email in reply and let her know that I would be using her points in a follow up post. If she had issues with what I wrote it is more than likely that others did, so I’d like to clarify. I also encouraged her to use the comments section on this blog if she’d like a more open discussion.

Taking my friend’s points in turn:

  • The money thing – it is great to know that my home studio has no financial obligations whatsoever to Bikram HQ. This is a major issue for me and very reassuring to have that cleared up, which makes it easier for me to go on with my practice. It’s a relief. I would really encourage you to ask your studio owner for the same assurance; I expect you will be told that there is a one-off licencing fee then no more financial relationship. I would suggest media outlets reporting on this story with phrases such as “Choudury … runs an international empire of about 650 yoga studios across three continents” do suggest he has a financial stake in studios bearing his name (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/14/bikram-yoga-sexual-assault-lawsuit) and it would be useful for them to be set straight.
  • Turning a blind eye – I didn’t mean the whole bikram universe has turned a blind eye, I meant his inner core at Bikram HQ or TT, who reportedly dismissed the Jane Does’ request for help. Presumably these are the 24 co-defendants named in the lawsuit/s along with Bikram; it seems to me “turning a blind eye” is quite a generous summary of their charges. I hope that is clear now and I hope I didn’t hurt anyone else’s feelings if that was ambiguous.
  • No, I have not turned my back on bikram yoga practice. I say at various points “I believe I will return to my practice”; “I choose to continue with this practice despite my discomforts”; and “by continuing in this path with my yoga”. Ditto, I hope that is now unambiguous.
  • Am I able to separate the man from the practice? Yes, it is more than possible, but please be aware that our appreciation of this practice is built around his name and defined by his name and by extension so are we. Can you realistically expect people to be able to separate his name from the practice without suggesting an alternative name – what do we call it if we’re not to call it bikram, when the very name leaves an unpleasant taste? What are we to call ourselves after years and years of being encouraged to identify ourselves as bikram yogis? Can studio owners take his name off their businesses, can they take his picture off studio walls, are they prepared to ask teachers and studio twitter feeds to stop quoting him directly? I’m sure these things are being into consideration, if not straight away then in anticipation of a possible guilty verdict, but these are difficult questions and let’s not be naïve – these things don’t happen overnight. Not for teachers, not for students like me, and not for the broader bikram universe. Okay, maybe it’s only semantics, but it is very emotive for me and I want to know these things are in hand because I feel we have been let down.
  • It takes quite a lot to stomach being asked to separate the man from the practice when the vast majority of the bikram universe is acting like nothing has happened.
  • My home studio has sent an email to members about the lawsuits. It was six days after the lawsuits were first reported which is a little slow for my tastes but I have to say that I am on the mailing lists of several bikram yoga studios in the UK and US and mine is the only one to acknowledge publicly that this is happening, so I do respect that. Maybe you’d like to tell me how your studio is handling this in the comments section below? (If you know a studio whose PR agency is telling them to remain quiet, tell them “Silence is compliance, bitches” and get them to sack the PR and make a statement.)

More generally, I think, the lack of response from Bikram HQ is really troubling – and I daresay there are legal subtleties there that I’m not conversant with. But because we invest so much in this very demanding practice which – let’s face facts – does ritualise him that when something like this happens with even a chance that he is guilty we feel leaderless, and the silence compounds that into a feeling of abandonment. I can’t tell you the crisis of faith I have been facing – which in itself has taken me by surprise. If anything has taught me how important this yoga has become to me it is this shameful episode, I can assure you.

I am sincerely pleased that my friend got in touch as these are times of heightened emotions when it’s really easy to misunderstand each other and the fewer ambiguities remain the better.

Spread love. Speak up.

Thank you for reading

Namaste

Caz

Okay, Let’s Talk About This

Bikram Butterflies

I wasn’t sure whether to approach this topic; I’m sure it will be controversial.  But silence implies acceptance, and that’s something I’m not willing to give to this situation.

I’ve been getting a LOT of hits lately from people searching on some variation of “Bikram Yoga” and “Sexual Harassment.”  It’s because of this (update: a non-sensationalised article with a link to the full lawsuit can be found here).  If you don’t want to click through, then here’s the short story: a 29 year old Bikram student/teacher trainee has sued Bikram Choudhury for sexual harassment (persistent and unwanted advances at teacher training) and discrimination (“sabotaging” her teaching career after she repeatedly turned him down).

It’s serious.  And it’s awful.  I’m not even slightly interested in rehashing the details – this woman has gone through enough without having the experience dissected by a blogger who’s never met any of the involved…

View original post 325 more words

A Letter to Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2

Dear Jane and Jane

I’m so very sorry for all that you are going through right now and over the past while and all the circumstances that have brought you to file a civil suit against you-know-who. I can’t imagine what you are going through but I’m pretty sure it’s hideous. Literally unimaginable.

Sitting in the midst of my relatively comfortable urban professional life in London I can’t even picture how things would change if I was put in your position. I’d probably lose it completely.

So, I wanted to say hi and I’m sorry and thank you and congratulations and be strong and I hope you find light somehow and please know that if I knew you personally I would do whatever was in my power to help. As it is, this may be all I can do.

Since I heard – via a twitter friend – two evenings ago about the lawsuits I have been able to think about little else. I was on day 8 of a 30 day bikram yoga challenge and I found I couldn’t go to class yesterday or today. It’s the first time I have skipped class not because of laziness, injury, making excuses, getting a better offer, being generally lame or having eaten far too much penne vodka at lunch. I skipped class because of disgust and revulsion; betrayal and its counterpart: allegiance. Allegiance with you.

Changing gear a little, I think that the purpose of our “innocent until proven guilty” policy is to civilise our basic “where there is smoke there is fire” instinct. The smoke in this case, sadly, is simply that having read anything I could get my hands on about Bikram Choudhury over the last few years, and in the absence of hundreds of his friends and colleagues rushing forward shouting “Bikram would NEVER abuse his position; Bikram would NEVER assault anyone let alone a woman let alone a TT student!” – I find it all too easy to believe he is capable of rape. And I find it all too easy to believe the culture that surrounds him would rather turn a blind eye than lose him; than tarnish the practice; than demean the transformative power of this yoga; than cut off their income; than admit they had been hoodwinked; than be shown the devastating effect of false idols. Than enquire within. Ironically, this yoga teaches us that this is the hardest thing we are asked to do in the hot room. It is the only thing we are asked to do, ultimately.

I don’t know any of these people but I will say one thing: silence is compliance; and silence, every bit as much as yoga, is a choice.

So, anyway, I guess I’m really writing to tell you that having thought about little else for 48 hours I am not planning to turn my back on bikram yoga, but I did feel I wanted to let you know why. This may well be empty rhetoric, it may well be post rationalisation but as much as I credit Bikram Choudhury with giving me this yoga, I will be damned before I let him take it away. It is tragic that he took it away from you.

Here’s what I’m still profoundly uncomfortable with:

  • This practice and his name are inextricably linked
  • In order to continue to practice this yoga I am obliged to give money – indirectly – to a probable rapist
  • Each hot room available to me has images of Bikram Choudhury in it
  • I don’t think I can become a bikram yoga teacher if he is found guilty

However, I believe I will return to my practice because he doesn’t get to take this away from me. The anger and the disillusionment and betrayal and injustice and bitterness do not get to win. Fuck them all. This is no longer bikram yoga, this is fucking badass Caz yoga from now on and I own it. If I could I would give it back to you complete, washed, reborn. Change, savasana.

I hope you can see that as your sister if I choose to continue with this yoga despite my discomforts that I am honouring the part of you that is also the part of me. I recognise the part of that of you was injured which is also my injury. I offer you my strength, my practice, my transformation.

By continuing in my path in this yoga I hope I can demonstrate to you that you weren’t wrong. You were not wrong to fall in love with this practice; the meaning it offered to your life was not a mirage; the healing and change you witnessed was not sleight-of-hand; your faith in yourself in training to become a teacher was not misplaced.

Say someone forgets that violence and coercion have no place in yoga, which is ultimately and only about choice, that doesn’t change all the other things that yoga does mean. It doesn’t mean that you are weak.

Anyway, lastly I want to say how much I hope none of this is upsetting for you, I absolutely do not mean it that way. And I want you to know that even all the way over here in London I am thinking about you – and I can’t be the only one. I mean I know I’m unique but I can’t be that special; hundreds of others must be sending you positive vibes also.

So, during these low, dark, challenging days: good luck to you. What is past is prologue.

All my love

Namaste

Caz