Tag Archives: Western Yoga

Bikram Yoga and Bikram Choudhury

Bikram Yoga is a style of hatha yoga that was developed by Bikram Choudhury (Frey 1). Hatha Yoga emphasizes the outcome of yoga’s “…physical effects [such as] weight loss, physical stress reduction, muscle toning, and flexibility” (Fish 191). Additionally, it does not focus on the meditative aspects of yoga. These characteristics of the Hatha style of yoga are pronounced in Bikram Yoga and heightened. The purpose of Bikram Yoga is for the transformation of adults to improve health, rejuvenate the body, become fit, and therefore be “healthy”. These words are put in quotations as the controversy behind this style is vast. Varying research, which will be discussed further on, has been conducted and provides both negative and positive results from individuals that have performed this style of yoga. Moreover, beyond the controversy that has been publicized about the style, Bikram Choudhury himself has received negative public awareness, specifically in North America. This is owing to his methods of teaching, claims for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR’s) on the yoga style, and sexual assault and rape allegations that have been brought forth by previous students. While Bikram Yoga is still widely debated and its reputation has fluctuated, the popularity of this style cannot be questioned.

Bikram Choudhury was born in Kolkata/Calcutta, India in 1946 (Frey 1). Before Yoga encapsulated Choudhury’s life, he was well known for his weightlifting until a knee injury prevented him from continuing with his passion (Fish 194). It was then, when Choudhury was desperate for healing, that he met his yoga guru, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, who promised Choudhury he could fix his injury through yoga (Singleton 2010). He trained Choudhury at his College of Physical Education in Calcutta, which focussed on the modern and upcoming popular Hatha Yoga (Singleton 134). This style focussed on postures (asanas), muscle manipulation, and the physical culture of Yoga. Ghosh claimed that this style was a “weights-free method of physical training through will-power…” (Singleton 133). Miraculously, Choudhury’s injury healed. From this, there are claims that he participated in the National India Yoga Championship in which he won gold consecutively for several years (Frey 2012) and became a world champion yogi by the age of seventeen. This began the journey of Choudhury’s entrepreneurial yoga empire, which lead to the claim of a special invitation from President Richard Nixon in the 1970s for Choudhury to visit the United States of America (Fish 194). From this visit, Choudhury states to have helped Nixon with his injuries, as well as Shirley MacLaine, who was a famous actress, and obtained a green card as a thank you from the President.

From Choudhury’s acceptance into the U.S. began the creation of transnational commercial yoga, which as Fish (2006) states, is the yoga franchisee equivalent to McDonald’s. In 1974, Choudhury founded the Bikram Yoga College of India (BYCI) in Beverley Hills, California. Choudhury soon coined the name “Bikram Yoga” as he taught a very specific form that included 26 different postures (asanas) and 2 different breathing exercises (pranayamas), which were taught in ninety-minute durations (Fish 194). Additionally, Bikram Yoga is synonymous with Hot Yoga (Pizer 2018). This is due to the yoga practices being taught in studios that are heated at a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius), which is above the normal temperature of the human body. Heat was said to be used because it was believed that the “inner heat” (tapas) produced through a physical activity could purify an individual and destroy imperfections of mental and sensorial faculties (Singleton, 175). Therefore, Choudhury believed that increasing the heat an individual was exposed to would produce more sweating, therefore leading to better physical health by cleansing one’s body and enhancing performance through the loosening of muscles (Pizer 2018). In 2006, Fish (194) reported that there was approximately 800 franchises of Official Bikram Studios, which operated in 33 different countries.

With the creation of this college and the popularity that exploded in the west of this particular style, he soon began to exploit North American’s for their wealth and became a multi-millionaire as a result (Pizer 2018). The new modern yoga that Bikram popularized was vastly different from traditional yoga practices. As stated previously, it “[did] not emphasize lineage or the rootedness of the tradition in the religious context, [but] [focussed] instead on the physical benefits of the practice with respects to fitness, beautification, and the like” (Singleton and Byme 173), which was exactly in-line with North American trends of being slimmer and fit during this era. His infamous teacher training classes cost individuals approximately ten-thousand dollars each for a nine-week course. Choudhury’s way of teaching, style of yoga, and exploitation of students (sisya) abandoned the rules of traditional yoga, which was primarily focused on “… dealing with aims, celibacy, scriptural study, and retreat from society or social norms” (Jain 10). Furthermore, the benefits from Bikram yoga began to reflect the dominant self-development desires of Choudhury. He transformed the teaching of yoga from “… the traditional guru-disciple relationship, usually in the isolated context of an ashram, [instead] to [marketing] yoga to mass audiences” (Jain 7) to obtain wealth.

In 2002, Bikram Choudhury attempted to obtain Intellectual Property Rights for his 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises (Fish 192). This took fruition after Choudhury became irate that studios were taking profits away from him by using his style of yoga, and in non-certified Bikram studios (Fish 195). Beyond the substantial profit he obtained from holding mass studios offering teacher training, Choudhury began franchising Bikram Yoga. Individuals that successfully passed, and paid, for the BYCI teacher training were allowed to open up Bikram Yoga studios by paying continuous franchisee and royalty fees to Choudhury (Fish 2006). Although groups such as the Open Source Yoga Unity (OSYU) initially fought Choudhury, claiming that yoga was knowledge of the public and not the private domain, Choudhury was able to settle these claims outside of court with a non-disclosure agreement between the parties (Fish 2006). Furthermore, in the present day, the Indian government is creating a digital library of all yoga mechanisms and yogic knowledge to preserve the public domain of yoga. This act has been described by Fish (2006) as a “reverse patent”, as it aims to preserve yoga for all people (i.e. the public) and to eliminate the possibility of yoga to become possessed by a singular individual or entity (Fish 2006).

As Bikram Yoga became increasingly famous, sexual assault and rape allegations, as well as the harmful dynamics from the classes, began to proliferate from former students and former legal representatives of Choudhury (Pizer 2). A quote from a student that attended a Bikram class publicly stated to a recognised U.S. magazine that Choudhury would introduce the class as follows: “Welcome to Bikram’s torture chamber, where you’ll kill yourself for the next ninety minutes”. Furthermore, students disclosed the intensity of the classes describing how Choudhury would make fun of students for their weight and appearance and did not allow bathroom breaks during lessons Additionally, students claimed that the physical expectations and heat conditions caused several participants to faint or vomit in class and feel severe pain during and after lessons. Bikram Yoga did not have beginner, intermediary, or expert classes and the students that failed were humiliated publicly in front of everyone in the mass studio. The sexual assault and rape claims came from six of Choudhury’s previous students and his previous lawyer. Choudhury denies all claims. The accumulating costly allegations eventually led Bikram Choudury Yoga Inc. to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, listing more than $16 million in legal judgments (Yerak 1). In 2017, an arrest warrant was issued for Choudhury in California, but Choudhury successfully fled the United States and has yet to pay Jafa-Bodden (Pizer 2018).

The controversy surrounding Bikram Yoga and Bikram Choudhury himself is exponential, but perhaps even more thought-provoking is the mixed results researchers have produced in verifying if this extreme style of yoga does in fact have the positive effects on the human body it claims to generate. Hewett (355) conducted a randomized experiment using an experimental and control group to compare the effects of Bikram Yoga on perceived stress, self-efficacy, and health-related quality of life in adults. Results were in favour of Bikram Yoga and concluded that individuals experienced improved perceived stress, general self-efficacy, and had an increase in overall health. Moreover, Abel’s (37) study on the physiological effects of Bikram Yoga continued the positive regard with findings that concluded participants had lower heart rate and blood pressure.  However, negative results from research have also been provided. Cramer’s (3) study indicated significant adverse effects on the human body due to postures performed in Bikram Yoga such as the headstand, shoulder stand, and the lotus position. Cramer (3) claimed that these positions have “… adverse [affects] [on] the musculoskeletal system and included fractures, ligament tears, joint injuries, fibrocartilaginous injuries, …” etc., as well as produced glaucoma and osteopenia in some cases. Cramer (6) continued to state that “Bikram yoga [was] the yoga [practice] that [was] most often associated with adverse events”. This study concludes by warning individuals to avoid forceful yoga practices such as Bikram Yoga, especially if they are beginners, are elderly, or have medical conditions (7).


Abel, Lloyd, Williams, and Miller, K. Brian (2012) “Physiological Characteristics of Long-Term Bikram Yoga Practitioners.” Journal of Exercise Physiology 32:39-15. Accessed January 31, 2020. ISSN:1097-9751


Cramer, H., Krucoff, C., and Dobos, Gustav (2013) “Adverse Events Associated with Yoga: A Systematic Review of Published Case Reports and Case Series.” PLoS ONE 1:8-10. Accessed January 31, 2020. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075515

Fish, Allison (2006) “The Commodification and Exchange of Knowledge in the Case of Transnational Commercial Yoga.” International Journal of Cultural Property 189:206-13. Accessed January 31, 2020. doi: 10.1017/S0940739106060127

Frey, Rebecca, J. (2012) “Bikram Yoga.” The Gale encyclopedia of fitness. 1:5-249. Accessed February 22, 2020.

Hewett, Pumpa, Smith, Fahey, and Birinder, S. Cheema (2018) “Effect of a 16-week Bikram yoga program on perceived stress, self-efficacy and health-related quality of life in stressed and sedentary adults: A randomised controlled trial.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 352:357-21. Accessed January 31, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2017.08.006

Jain, Andrea (2016) “Modern Yoga.” Oxford Research Encyclopedias. Accessed February 22, 2020. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.163

Pizer, Ann (2018) The Difference Between Bikram and Hot Yoga. New York: Dotdash

Singleton, Mark (2010) Yoga body: The origins of modern posture practice. New York: Oxford University Press USA – OSO.

Singleton, Mark, and Jean Byrne (2008) Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives. London: Routledge.

Yerak, Becky (2017) “Bikram Choudhury’s Yoga Business Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy; Hot Yoga Pioneer Bikram Choudhury Is Facing Millions in Legal Judgments.” Wall Street Journal. Accessed January 31, 2020.  

Related Research Topics

Bishnu Charan Ghosh

Hatha Yoga

Postural Yoga

Modern Yoga

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic








Article written by: Leila Methot (Spring, 2020) who is entirely responsible for its content.


Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a traditional form of yoga that was created by Pattabhi Jois. This form of yoga mainly focuses on a combination of vigorous exercises and controlled breathing (Jarry, Chang and La Civita 1269). An important part of Ashtanga Vinyasa is to create fluid transitions or movements in between the different postures (Rodrigues 385). The ultimate end goal of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is to create a yoga mala, which means that all of the components of the practice are connected like a garland. The movements are the string and the poses are the beads (Maehle 2006:9). Pattabhi Jois’ idea of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is proposed to stem from an ancient system outlined by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, a now unlocatable book, which Pattabhi Jois was given by his guru Krishnamacharya (Smith 26). According to one of Pattabhi Jois’ students, Eddie Stern, all of Pattabhi’s teachings regarding Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga are taken from the Yoga Korunta (Smith 26). Pattabhi Jois also says that he never saw the book but only received oral teachings from his guru (Smith 26). Jois took his ideas and the method of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and created a book called Yoga Mala. He believed that when practicing yoga postures, it is more important that an individual masters a few postures at a time rather than trying to work on many at a time. This was also his belief when he was teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (Donahaye and Stern 5). Jois taught yoga at the Sanskrit College as well as eventually opening his own small studio where he taught around 50 students. He was very respected by his students. (Donahaye and Stern 5). When teaching, Pattabhi mainly focused on the aspect of healing (Donahaye and Stern 7). During the time that Jois was teaching, there was very little modern medicine; it was believed that yoga was the best thing you were able to do for your health. (Donahaye and Stern 6). Due to this, most of Pattabhi Jois’ students were sick, and he helped individuals that all had different issues become healthier through the use of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Other than healing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is used to increase body heat, to change an individual’s energy pattern, release impurities, develop internal awareness, mindfulness, the ability to concentrate as well as increase sensitivity to internal sensations and messages (Frey and Cataldo 1007).

There are eight limbs of yoga that are essential components when practicing yoga. These eight limbs were listed by Patanjali and include yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi (Rodrigues 149). Yama is the ethical behaviour you should have towards others and Niyama is the rules you have toward the self. Asana are the poses that are practiced, and Pranayama is the breathing exercises that coordinate with the poses. Pratyahara is the ability to control sensory input. Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are different levels of meditative practice (Jarry, Chang and La Civita 1269). Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga involves components of these eight limbs of yoga. When practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa, the eight limbs of yoga are practiced simultaneously rather than practicing each limb separately (Maehle 2006:15).

The fundamentals required to successfully practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga include breath, bandhas, drsti, and vinyasa. The fundamental of breath is what allows for the postures to bind together. This is done with three fundamental techniques that are necessary for the postures to bind together in order to achieve the fluid transitions that are needed to create the desired yoga mala (Maehle 2006:9-14). These three techniques are essential types of breathing and controlling breath. The three techniques are Ujjayi Pranayama, Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. Ujjayi Pranayama means “victorious breath” which is the stretching of breath, it is meant to develop an inner heat or tapas (Smith 27). Mula Bandha is what allows for the pulsating movement in the ribcage that is required, and Uddiyana Bandha is the light contracting of the transverse abdominal muscles (Maehle 2006:9-14). These three techniques, known as the invisible content, are more important than the posture or the visible content (Maehle 2006:9). Bandhas, such as the Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha, are fundamental to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga because they allow an individual to gain control of their body as well as lock their energy. One of the main bandhas that are used in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is the Mula Bandha, this bandha is used to create an upward flow that allows for growth (Maehle 2006:12). Mula Bandha is held throughout the entire practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa. Another primary bandha that is involved is the Uddiyana Bandha. The point of Uddiyana Bandha is to allow free movement of the diaphragm. Another important fundamental of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is drsti. Drsti is an individual’s gaze to a certain focal point (Maehle 2006:14). A few of the focal points used in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga are toward the nose, toward the center of the forehead, or the third eye, toward the naval, toward the hand, toward the toes, toward the side, toward the thumb and upward (Maehle 2006:14). The use of drsti allows for the individual to avoid looking around. Keeping concentrated on one focal point allows for the practice of yoga to become internal and meditative (Maehle 2006:14). The idea of vinyasa is important when practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga because some types of yoga can require a lot of time and dedication. Vinyasa Yoga is a type of yoga that was designed for householders, it allows for individuals with social duties to be able to practice yoga without turning their backs on their responsibilities (Maehle 2006:15). Vinyasa Yoga has poses arranged in sequences that allow them to be combined with the eight limbs of yoga. This allows for the practice of yoga to be condensed into a shorter amount of time. Vinyasa Yoga contains movements or vinyasas that occur in between the different postures. The vinyasas link the poses together in order to create a yoga mala. Due to this, Vinyasa Yoga is known as movement meditation. Incorporating vinyasa with the postures allow strength and flexibility to be built simultaneously (Maehle 2006:16).

When practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, the postures and the order in which they are performed are very important, due to the fact that this type of yoga is meant to be very structured (Frey and Cataldo 1008). The postures, or asanas, that are involved in yoga are meant to bring individuals to a state of freedom in which they are able to realize their divine potential (Maehle 2009:xvii). Asanas also promote flexibility, improve breathing and well-being as well as to help individuals to remain in a meditative state for a lengthy period of time (Frey and Cataldo 1008). The practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga has a series of asanas that are tied together by series of movements or vinyasas to create a yoga mala (Smith 27). The postures and movements are coordinated with Ujjayi Pranayama, which is used throughout the entire practice (Smith 27). The combined practice of asana, vinyasa, drsti, ujjayi pranayama and bandha allow the individual to move towards the ability to control the fluctuations of the mind (Smith 27). The control of the mind is seen to allow an individual to realize their true nature of the self, which is the intended goal of yoga (Smith 27).

The practice begins with an opening sequence, which consists of Surya Namaskara and standing poses (Frey and Cataldo 1008). Surya Namaskara is a series of sun salutations that act as an opening. This series is meant to create the inner fire of purification, or agni. When agni is obtained, the postures and breath come together to cleanse the body and the mind. Agni allows for yoga to become transformative (MacGregor 2013, np). The next part of the opening sequence is the standing poses. The goal of the standing poses of Ashtanga Vinyasa is to build a strong structural foundation and create good alignment for the rest of the practice (MacGregor 2013, np). After the opening sequence is complete, the next step in practice can include seated poses, arm balances, leg-behind-head postures and backbend poses (Maehle 2009:xix). The postures that are included depends on which series you are doing. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga consists of six different series that increase in difficulty (Jarry, Chang and La Civita 1270). The six series are the primary series, the intermediate series and the advanced series. The advanced series contains four different series, advanced A, advanced B, advanced C and advanced D. All of the series contain the same core principles. The practice concludes with the finishing sequence. In between all of the stages of practice, there are connective sections which allow for the postures to flow smoothly. When all postures are smoothly bonded together, a yoga mala is achieved (Maehle 2006:9). The overall goal of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is to create a yoga mala, and when achieved it can have numerous benefits.

The practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is understood to have many benefits, both psychological and physical. While teaching, Pattabhi Jois focused on the aspect of healing and that was how Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga began. It was understood that practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with Jois would help you become healthier (Donahaye and Stern 6). Most of the students that Pattabhi Jois had were sick, and that was the reason they began to study yoga. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is known for creating an inner heat within the body which is capable of clearing the body and mind of unwanted toxins. This allows the body to be cleansed as well as the mind to be cleansed from unwanted thoughts. Benefits of practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga also include increasing flexibility and strength (Maehle 2006:16). It also has the benefit of increasing an individual’s ability to concentrate and the ability to control sensory input through the practice of pratyahara (Jarry, Chang and La Civita 1269). Newer studies of the benefits of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga show that there are also benefits towards mental health, such as reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety (Jarry, Chang and La Civita 1269). A possible explanation for this could be that Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga involves physical exercise, which is known to reduce and prevent the symptoms of depression and anxiety (Kandola et al. 525). Another reason could be that Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga involves meditation which is a popular treatment used for depression and anxiety (Sorbero et al. 1). Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga also involves controlled breathing, which inhibits the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (Jarry, Chang and La Civita 1270). Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system creates a calming reaction, supressing the feelings of depression and anxiety (Jarry, Chang and La Civita 1270). Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga has many benefits that can be achieved when practice occurs, this is due to the fact that all the different components of Ashtanga Vinyasa are very beneficial in many aspects of life.


Donahaye, Guy and Stern, Edwin (2010) Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the      Eyes of His Students. New York: North Point Press.

Frey, Rebecca J., Cataldo, Laura Jean (2017) “Vinyasa Yoga.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Fitness, 2:1007-1010. Accessed February 20, 2020.

Jarry, J. L., Chang, F. M. & La Civita, L. (2017) “Ashtanga Yoga for Psychological Well-being:     Initial Effectiveness Study.” Mindfulness, 8:1269-1279. Accessed January 29, 2020. doi:        10.1007/s12671-017-0703-4

Kandola, A., Ashdown-Franks, G., Hendrikse, J., Sabiston, C. M., Stubbs, B. (2019) “Physical activity and depression: Towards understanding the antidepressant mechanisms of physical activity.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 525-539. Accessed March 19, 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.09.040

MacGregor, Kino (2013) The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice That Will Bring        You Strength, Flexibility & Inner Peace. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc. (No      pagination available)

Maehle, Gregor (2006) Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy. California: New World           Library.

Maehle, Gregor (2009) Ashtanga Yoga: Mythology, Anatomy and Practice. California: New       World Library.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Smith, B. R. (2007) “Body, Mind and Spirit? Towards an Analysis of the Practice of Yoga.”      Body & Society, 13:25-46. Accessed January 28, 2020. doi:10.1086/599247

Sorbero, M., Ahluwalia, S., Reynolds, K., Lovejoy, S., Farris, C., Sloan, J., Miles, J., Vaughan,     C., Kandrack, R., Apaydin, E., Colaiaco, P., Herman, P. (2015) Meditation for            Depression: A Systematic Review of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Major            Depressive Disorder. California: RAND Corporation

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Hatha Yoga



Power Yoga

Rama Mohan Brahmachari

Yoga Korunta

Yoga Mala     

Yoga Sutra

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic



Article written by: Caitlin Beler (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for its content