I attended Bikram’s Yoga School sometime in the late 90s. It was very far from my home at the time, just beneath the Hollywood sign, and I would sweat and bake in the car, panicking that I would be late for their 4:30 pm class -- but, ultimately, I would arrive just in time, to sweat and bake further in the heat of the classroom. The school was much larger than the Bikram studios I had attended previously, as many in attendance were student teachers, eager to be certified so they might one day open schools on their own –- small, hot, smelly rooms that have now popped up all over the world.
Bikram Yoga is rather different from other yoga forms I have attempted. I am only saying I have attempted yoga, but I’ve been attempting it for about 35 years, beginning with watching Lillias on PBS as a child to once even actually filling out a form for a teaching workshop in India (To be a teacher! Seriously! I shit you not!) -- and then attempting to not fidget in child’s pose with a serious sadhu at dawn on the rooftop of the Vajra Hotel in Kathmandu.
Usually before big shows, I will hire a yoga teacher to come and work with me on the stage before soundcheck. My touring party and I lay out on borrowed mats and we try to undo the damage of airline seats and hotel beds. Bikram Yoga, with its intense heat and brilliantly curated sequence of poses, is one of my favorite and least favorite forms of the art of yoga.
Bikram Yoga is hard. It can make you sick at first. Then it’s so addictive you’d think there should be a 12-step program for it. The room is heated up to 105 degrees and, boy, do you feel it -- and then you smell it. It can make your eyes water and shit. Like it’s every human smell multiplied by pi, and that’s not good, as often the practice rooms are carpeted, soaking up all the human juice for, uh, later. You use a mat and a towel on top, but that doesn’t really begin to absorb all the fluid that comes out of your body. It’s a bummer when the smell of all humanity being wrung out like a towel surrounds you, and you are adding to it, bringing your unique scent to the human stew that is Bikram Yoga.
I took a number of classes with the master himself, Bikram Choudhury, and I found him charming in small doses, but then usually, after 26 poses –- I'd had enough. He was rather prickly -- he wanted poses done perfectly, held as long as they should be -- and these are qualities we want from a teacher of course. Watch us, tell us what we are doing wrong. Be here with us in class. Don’t play the fucking harmonium, you new age douchebag. If you are a yoga teacher, teach that yoga. He wasn’t like an “OM” dude. He didn’t give a shit about that. He wore a tiny bikini bottom, more of a thong maybe, and lots of gold jewelry, which I wondered how it didn’t heat up to the melting point in class. He sweated along with us. I admired him for that, and for the 26 poses, and for the cult of him.
There seemed to be a huge cult of him, mostly women but some men, all extremely fit and beautiful (I am not counting myself as a member of this cult). Schools were popping up everywhere. His students wanted to spread the word of his yogic genius and the smell of everyone’s sweaty holes all over the goddamned world.
Yeah, I love that yoga, I will even do an eagle or two from time to time, out of sequence and in a cold room, because I am gangsta like that, but after awhile, the master Bikram Choudhury really started to get on my nerves. He made numerous comments on the women’s bodies in class. He got really shitty once all up in my brother Bruce Daniel’s face, because Bruce came to class with me, couldn’t handle the heat or the smell, left and actually vomited outside. Bikram Choudhury loves a dirty joke, as I do, but sometimes his jokes were quite cutting, and inappropriate – which for me is saying a lot. I am the most inappropriate bitch and if I am saying something is inappropriate -- you know that shit must be illegal. Sorry, I am saying “shit” too much, but in a way, that is kind of how Bikram Choudhury made me feel: like shit.
The yoga itself -- no -- not shitty. Bikram Choudhury the man -- shitty. There’s some sexual harassment allegations against him right now, and there have been rumors about his behavior towards his female students for years, and I have to say, as a former student and actual fan of his popular form of yoga, I know that all that seems just like the guy I once knew. It doesn’t mean we have to stop doing the poses, but maybe we should just, for once, notice the Poser.
Margaret Cho is a comedian and host of the podcast "Monsters of Talk."