Sitting Down With Bikram Choudhury
By Julie Deife
Bikram Choudhury is best known for establishing a system of yoga that he copyrighted and franchised. The lawsuit, written about by every major paper in the U.S., between Bikram and Open Source Yoga, a group of yoga teachers, was settled out of court the day before this interview. Bikram is not going to discuss that. Here, at Bikram Yoga College on La Cienega Ave. in Los Angeles, we talked about many other things that shed light onto who this man is.
Julie: Why Bikram yoga?
Bikram: Bikram Yoga is to prevent chronic diseases, like of the heart. If you take care of yourself you are not going to get sick and that means you do exercise, and live a good life, clean life, live a full, disciplined life. But when you cannot discipline yourself 24 hours a day, that’s perfectly okay. If you take one class every day, you can clean up everything, and you can defend against everything.
Julie: Do you zero in on specific areas, like the heart?
Bikram: We answer people’s needs from bone to skin, from hair to toes. This class takes care of every internal organ, all the glands, all the nerves and ligaments, muscles, you work them all. But bones! There is nothing invented in medical science today to protect the skeletal system; as people get older and older, they lose bone density.
Julie: And this is the focus of the research that you are involved in with UCLA, USC, Stanford, Harvard, etc., right?
Bikram: Yes, they are conducting the study. The whole country wants to know what it is that I do to prevent bone loss.
Julie: What is the secret?
Bikram: It’s nothing secret; it’s maintenance. Yoga keeps the body young. My guru says: a Yogi never becomes old. If you keep doing yoga, each and every internal organ you can maintain in perfect condition, whether you are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60.
Julie: It is often stated in scientific articles that bone loss is almost irreversible and that it is partly determined by how we treated ourselves in our early years.
Bikram: We are doing it.
Julie: The case history - like being a smoker or heavy drinker - would seem to have some influence.
Bikram: It doesn’t matter.
Julie: It doesn’t matter.
Bikram: Bring the worst patient in the world to me and let me show you what can I do. That’s how people come here.
Julie: Well, that is great.
Bikram: I’m not interested in healthy people like you. I’m interested in people who haven’t walked for years, who are in a wheelchair. Let me see what I can do with them.
Julie: But I would like to live a long life.
Bikram: Well, that’s it! So, today you are healthy, what guarantee do you have for another 30 or 40 years?
Julie: I don’t.
Bikram: I can give you that guarantee
Julie: What else are you up to these days?
Bikram: Another project: a friend from Calcutta and I have invented a micro-endoscopy for breast cancer detection.
Julie: When will it be available?
Bikram: I’m working on the patent, and we are selecting a lawyer. Nobody will ever die of breast cancer because we’ll detect it. Every top hospital in this country, joins me in this project.
Julie: Well I can’t wait. This is revolutionary.
Bikram: The world needs revolution.
Julie: What is your message to the medical community?
Bikram: We don’t need drugs, we don’t need medication, we don’t need operations, we don’t need Lithium, which I’m telling (people) all my life! Some listen, some don’t, so I’m going to tell them: you are trying to help people and still pushing drugs.
Julie: Tell me what goes on here at Bikram Yoga College.
Bikram: I teach only one class a day and I teach philosophy in the teacher training. We teach anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, philosophy, spiritualism and nutrition.
Julie: Do you teach meditation?
Julie: Why not?
Bikram: Because, hatha yoga is their meditation. Western people can’t meditate.
Julie: Why not?
Bikram: Because they are born in the wrong place, they grew up the wrong way and they live their lives the wrong way. People in the western world don’t understand what the meaning of meditation is.
Julie: Is it wrong to try?
Bikram: Trying the wrong way is wrong.
Julie: So trying is a waste of time?
Bikram: Waste of time. In India people really can’t meditate either. Nobody can meditate, if they know what is the true meditation. What do you understand, what meditation is?
Julie: Give me the definition of meditation, please.
Bikram: I will tell you! Of course I’ll tell you! Listen to this very carefully, one billion dollar answer… to achieve nothing but concentration power. The whole life depends, success or failure on one thing: how much you can concentrate. And, you can’t meditate, until you do hatha yoga first. My class is the meditation. If you don’t do hatha yoga, you cannot do raja yoga. If you do not finish high school, you cannot go to university, same thing. If you don’t want to do anything, just go home, turn the lights off, listen to music and chant, you get higher blood pressure, cholesterol up, overweight, that’s not meditation.
Julie: As far as the yoga direction in the U.S., what do you think is happening?
Bikram: Good! Incredible! Revolutionary! It is waking up. People have been sleeping for a long time. People have all been listening to their doctors and taking drugs and medication. That’s not it. Jesus said 2000 years ago, a blind cannot lead another blind. So, I don’t want to follow you anymore, I want to follow somebody else, somebody who knows how to live a happy, healthy, peaceful life!
Julie: How much do you sleep at night? Do you sleep, ever?
Bikram: No, I don’t sleep at night, I sleep in the morning, two hours. Why do we need to sleep?
Julie: If you only sleep two hours what do you do? Do you read, listen to music?
Bikram: I don’t have time to read or listen to music.
Bikram: No, I don’t meditate. I help millions and millions of people around the world. I wish I had 100 hours a day.
Julie: You’re in constant communication with people?
Bikram: The whole time telephone calls come from around the world. 600 emails every day. I have six secretaries, they answer email and when really they need my opinion they read to me, and I tell them what to answer.
Julie: God, that’s a lot of email.
Bikram: Oh, man, you have no idea. I have a busy life!
Julie: Do you know that you have a reputation for being contentious?
Bikram: I’m a very controversial person, in every aspect in the word, because people don’t want to hear the truth, they are accustomed to hearing lies. I speak the truth.
When you speak the truth you become unpopular, but I don’t care.
I have taught presidents, prime ministers, king, emperor, superstars, billionaire, nobodies, all kinds of people. They come to me and they listen to me; they are good in their job, but they are not very good yet at their own life.
Julie: What makes you sad?
Bikram: Oh, lots of things. In America is the saddest thing in the world - I call it crucifixion of a civilization. When people get old, they are expendable, they’re thrown out in the trash. They are not important anymore. That’s the saddest thing ever to happen in the history of our civilization. So that’s one and I can tell you a hundred more, but that’s all negative.
Julie: On the issue of yoga as an Olympic sport – and it is an issue - what are you doing?
Bikram: When we approached the Olympic Association, they said that you have to try it this way. This year, they are excited. This year our competition was five times bigger than last year, so I hope next for the Olympics.
Julie: You think it’ll happen that soon?
Bikram: Yeah, wish me good luck. You know that I live with the positive.
Julie: You and your wife are pretty much business partners, and you have a very strong personality, yet you seem to work very well together. What is your secret?
Bikram: We’re born in the right place, we grew up the right way, and our foundation… Right way! It’s simple. I just do my job, she just does her job, I appreciate what she does, she appreciates what I do and that’s called yoga, marriage, a telecommunications system. We never criticize what we don’t have, we always appreciate what we have. It’s simple. She has something I don’t; I have something she doesn’t. We exchange what we have and we make the best of our life.
Julie: How does a yoga practice differ for men and women?
Bikram: Tough question. Men and women are more different than anything else in the history of our civilization, of all the creation. The moment you compare, the problems start, that is one of the key problems, disagreement and separation and divorce when you compare. Men and women are the sky and the ocean, but at the bottom, we are gods and goddesses.
Women do yoga more because it’s very private, very sacred. And men are very macho; they have no choice. They don’t like to do women’s stuff. They like to show off, but, when nothing works, their wives say ‘try Bikram’, and they say “oooh, Mickey Mouse.” But they come a couple of times, their mother can do it, but they cannot do it! It destroys their ego.
Julie: Why do you do this work?
Bikram: My guru gave me my mantra: make them happy, you will be happy. A lot of people think that I am doing a lot of things for people, actually not. I’m a selfish person. I give up everything for my life, to teach yoga, save people’s lives, to change people’s lives. Why? Because that’s the only way I can feed my spiritual need. That’s my spiritual practice. I tried everything else, but at the end of the day, I get nothing, dry.
But when some person comes in a wheelchair to my class, after one month she walks out, smiling face, brings me a shirt, gives me a cheesecake, says “I never thought I would live to do it again in my life,” a big, smiling face, that feeds my spiritual activity, my happiness, my satisfaction of living. That keeps going, after all these years, nothing in the world can stop me. So, if I’m happy, I can make more people like you happy.
Julie: And your hope for others?
Bikram: I wish that every human being should do yoga. They should not suffer, they will never need drugs, medication, and have a happy, healthy peaceful life! No anger, which is the number one disease, especially in America.
Julie: Can yoga change that?
Bikram: Oh! It’s easier to change American people than European and Asian people. With American people, one thing is wonderful. Their hearts are open, eyes are open, their brains are shut up; that’s the problem.
Julie: Why are you attracted to politics?
Bikram: All my life! I come from India, which is the most political country in the world, and my family is the most political family in the town, Princess Ghandi is my godmother, since I’m ten years old. So, I was born, I sleep, I live, I eat, with politics. This is my life! I enjoy it!
Julie: What would you like to say in closing?
Bikram: People are born as babies and people die as babies before they even know who they are. How sad. Every human being is a goldmine. When you dig a goldmine, dirt comes out, but somebody has to process the dirt, and process it, and process it, a long-term cleaning system. Then you get a piece of 24 karat gold, and that’s called life.
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