How Bikram yoga got HOTThe steamy story of the guru adored by celebrities who's trying to make yoga an Olympic sport
23:03 GMT, 23 September 2012
09:04 GMT, 24 September 2012
As global fitness phenomenons go, this one is hot — in more ways than one.
Sweaty devotees include Pippa Middleton, David Beckham and countless British Olympians, who bend themselves into positions you never thought possible in rooms heated to more than 100f.
Bikram — a hot form of yoga featuring 26 positions — is even used by the Buckingham Palace guards to train for standing in those sweltering bearskins for hours on end.
Women taking part in a steamy Bikram yoga class at the Bikram Yoga Centre in west London
The practice gets its name from creator Bikram Choudhury, a fabulously colourful 66-year-old yoga guru who lives in Los Angeles.
Dressed only in tight black Speedos and a microphone headset, he teaches classes of students, barking instructions at them in cheerfully suggestive language.
‘You, Miss Teeny-Weeny Bikini! Do not move a muscle!
— who is rumoured to own an 8,000 sq ft mansion in Beverly Hills and a
fleet of more than 40 Rolls-Royce and Bentleys — has even admitted to
sleeping with some of the thousands of trainee instructors who flock to
But ‘only’, he told one writer, ‘when they give me no choice!’
Centre of attention: Bikram and his wife Rajashree Choudhury pose with some of the competitors at a yoga competition in 2010
Ten years ago, Bikram controversially patented his 26 signature yoga postures (he credits these exercises with helping him recover from crippling injuries suffered in a weight-lifting accident), so all Bikram yoga studios must pay a licensing fee to open, and monthly fees to run.
Some Hindus were outraged, arguing that claiming a practice dating back 5,000 years as ‘intellectual property’ is the equivalent of Christians trying to patent the Lord’s Prayer.
WORDS OF WISDOM
A male practitioner of yoga is called a yogi, while a female practitioner is called a yogini
Nevertheless, Bikram is now estimated to earn about 3 million a year through his training courses, officially-certified studios (there are more than 5,000 worldwide) and branded products. Not content with that, there are even plans for an all-Bikram TV channel and a reality show.
But the pony-tailed Bikram Choudhury isn’t the only power behind the astonishing rise of hot yoga — whose celebrity followers also include Daniel Craig, Madonna, Demi Moore and George Clooney.
She might not be as well known — and not as flamboyant — but Rajashree Choudhury, Bikram’s wife of 28 years, has helped to build their international empire by creating the training programme, as well as developing yoga for expectant mothers.
Born in Calcutta in 1965 into a conservative Indian family, Rajashree began yoga at the age of four. In 1984, aged 19, she was introduced to Bikram Choudhury — a fellow yoga champion who grew up in the same city — and agreed to an arranged marriage.
Rajashree then moved to San Francisco, where her new husband had set up Bikram’s Yoga College of India 12 years earlier.
Bikram had previously taught in Japan and, shivering through the harsh winters, brought storage heaters into his studio. He enjoyed the combination of his postures and the heat so much that he never removed them.
Today the couple, who have a son and daughter both away at college, live in Los Angeles, where they run their school.
So what’s it like being married to the irrepressible godfather of Bikram who spends his days instructing legions of fit, mostly female students wearing not very much
‘Of course, at the start of our marriage we were going around like a pair of lovebirds doing everything together,’ Rajashree, 47, says. ‘But love changes over the years — especially when you have children — and you go through ups and downs. Marriage is never perfect, but giving each other space and respect is very important.
‘To make marriage work, you must forget about measuring things — arguing “I did more of this than you” will not work.’
Celebrity followers from left: Craig Martin, Madonna, Demi Moore and George Clooney
But what about the reputation of her husband, who some say has built his fortune by adding a veneer of eroticism to an ancient spiritual practice
‘We live very normal lives,’ she says. ‘My poor husband works very hard and has to travel constantly. I enjoy simple things: going to the opera, visiting art museums and drinking tea. I get up at 6am and meditate. I love this time and the morning sunshine. It’s my time to clear my thoughts.’
She also has a mission of her own; to have yoga accepted as an official Olympic sport. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Yoga is a competitive sport in India and she is five-times winner of the All India Yoga Championship.
So will Rajashree and her husband succeed in their ambitious bid to place yoga alongside the Olympic 100 metres and marathon, perhaps in time for Brazil 2016
‘My lawyers are speaking constantly to the Games organisers but I can’t disclose anything yet,’ Rajashree says. ‘By the time it happens, I will be too old to compete. But I hope that future generations will benefit.’
Joanne Hegarty blogs daily on fashion and style at www.balletpumpsandroses.com