There are predators in the fitness industry. Who knew?
So, Bikram, right?
Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a number of clients ask me if I watched the documentary “Bikram: Yoga. Guru. Predator” which is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a cautionary tale of worshipping false idols, extreme capitalism, and enabling the wrongdoings of a predator in exchange for career advancement. The film is eye-opening for some and recycled history for others.
I’ve previously written about yoga and the challenges it is currently facing. From the consumer culture that surrounds a yoga lifestyle to the measures studios are taking to ensure consent in a silent practice, yoga is changing. Podcasts like Yoga is Dead are exploring the toxicity that surrounds yoga from its appropriation by white women to the strict veganism that practically enforces eating disorders. Yoga is having its own reckoning, prompted by questioning devotees who are asking how this solitary form of reflection is now being marketed as a calorie-burning efficient exercise to tone and sculpt.
I actually attended one of Bikram’s classes years ago when I was in Los Angeles. Clad in that tiny speedo and weighed down by that huge Rolex, I joined other devotees in the Hollywood Bowl as he ran us through the set exercises. Starting every single sentence with “the problem with you Americans” and displaying more megalomania than I initially thought humanly possible, the 90-minutes was a sweaty ego-filled circus. I was bemused but others were entranced.
As a trainer, I know that different people respond to different approaches. There are those who want me to be a drill sergeant and those who expect me to be a supportive therapist. Over the years I’ve learned that cruelty is not synonymous with authority or expertise. I can think of other popular fitness gurus, (Jillian Michaels, anyone?) who have built their entire identity and success on a tough-love persona. The idea that you need to break someone down and then build them up to achieve results has more to do with the trainer than their students. They want to be seen as the only person who can create results. They want to be idolized and admired for being the single truth teller in a sea of complicity. And they do this by using their ego to manipulate their followers.
Until something breaks. Maybe they let their podcast audience know that it’s okay for a pregnant woman to have a glass of wine with dinner or encourage them to reject antidepressants because they cause weight gain. Maybe they pay special attention to the young women in their class and touch them inappropriately under the guise of an adjustment. Predators and bullies are everywhere and it’s up to you to detach yourself from them the moment you feel uncomfortable. If their behaviour is criminal, then report it. If it’s foolish then unsubscribe.
We all have the power to take care of ourselves and others. We don’t need investigative journalists and documentarians to confirm that icky feeling. If something feels wrong, it probably is. This journey is about self-improvement and self-presentation, so don’t fall under the spell of someone who fails on all accounts.