The first time I tried Bikram yoga, my body sensed danger. My previous experiences with yoga were all about finding the breath, and opening up the body to mindfulness and relaxation— a gentle practice of self-love. When I entered the humid room of my first Bikram class in a sweaty NYC loft, my body went into fight or flight mode.
As I let the instructor know that I was an asthmatic, she told me not to worry, and at the very least, just stay in the room for the entire 90-minute session. My classmates were down to their sports bras and shorts, some in underwear, sweating thick heaps— a side effect my then-roommate (who was Class Pass obsessed) told me would leave me with “the most amazing glowing skin.”She’d say, “Trust me, it’s a little gross. But it’s so worth it.”
I didn’t stay in the room. In fact, I bolted out of there in about ten minutes, filling my body with huge gulps of fresh air in the women’s locker room. And that was my last experience with Bikram. I thought that maybe somehow I was some sort of yogi failure, as my friends would continue to practice Bikram for years, often raving about it. Now that I’ve learned a bit about its founder, and the dangers Bikram yogis endured, I’m glad my body forced me to let it go.
ESPN’s upcoming 30 for 30 podcast season is devoted entirely to the story of Bikram Choudhury. The founder of the popular Bikram yoga series has fled the U.S. for Mexico, since he’s been accused in countless sexual assault cases, and owes more than $16 million in legal judgments. A preview of the season debuted at Tribeca Film Festival, with producers Jody Avirgan and Julia Lowrie Henderson at the helm. Lowrie Henderson, a former yoga instructor, interviewed victims, members of the practice who are still very much devoted, and others to get a full picture of Bikram’s meager beginnings in Calcutta, his massive rise in Beverly Hills, and his fall from grace. In the podcast, the practice of Bikram is described as “communal suffering.”
Will Bikram ever pay for the sex crimes he’s accused of? It’s anyone’s guess. Although there is a bench warrant out for him, he could possibly “beat the system” by filing for bankruptcy. Producers are keeping up with his whereabouts thanks to his Instagram Stories. Because despite it all, fame is a helluva drug.
All five episodes of Bikram will premiere on May 22, in the 30 for 30 podcast’s first serialized season. You’ll be able to stream it on the ESPN App, Apple, and anywhere podcasts are available.