The Balancing Pose

Celebrity yoga guru Bikram Choudhury has brought his “40 degree C hot yoga” to India,but will he be able to replicate its global success here?

Written by VIDYA PRABHU | Published:January 4, 2012 3:21 am

In the business of glamour,celebrities are ready to pay any price for fitness and a well-sculpted body. Some years ago,when popstar Beyonce Knowles was refused a private session by Bikram Choudhury,the founder of Bikram Yoga,she paid fees for an entire class of his and made her family and friends practise along with her. Such,they say,could be the draw of Choudhury and his brand of yoga,practised in a room with 40 degrees Celsius temperature.

Nearly four decades ago,Choudhury left India and life has come a full circle for him. The multimillionaire founder of Bikram Yoga was born and brought up in Kolkata,where he learned yoga under the tutelage of yogi Bishnu Ghosh. Today,the California-based yoga guru has returned to India to sell Bikram Yoga.

Choudhury,who recently opened his first centre in Mumbai,says he doesn’t know why it took so long to bring this discipline to India. “By the end of 2012,I hope to set up 10 more centres in India,including Bangalore,Delhi and Chennai,” he says.

His yoga,comprising 26 hatha-yoga postures — practiced in an extremely hot room — has received both awe and criticism from yoga practitioners across the world. Particularly stinging is the perception of it being a glamourous,‘sexed up’ variant of yoga.

In India too,health and fitness experts cast their doubts over the effectiveness of Bikram Yoga. Dr Aijaz Ashai,head of the Department of Physiotherapy at Mumbai’s Saifee Hospital,says,“In a city like Mumbai,where stress levels run high,I am not sure how practising yoga in such heat can be helpful,” he says.

Rajvi Mehta,who has been teaching Iyengar yoga since 1979,notes that a person’s suitability for such a rigorous session depends on age,health status and flexibility.

Choudhury brushes aside the flak. “I will make my detractors experience Bikram Yoga and then talk about it,” says the 65-year-old,who has 8,000 Bikram Yoga centres in over 65 countries and counts celebs such as George Clooney,Lady Gaga,Robbie Williams and Kobe Bryant among his clients.

No wonder then,Choudhury has raked in a lot of money over the years; it’s his sturdy bank balance that fuels his next big passion after yoga: luxury and vintage cars. Choudhury has a garage filled with gleaming Bentleys and Rolls-Royces,including cars once owned by Queen Elizabeth and the Beatles. “There’s nothing wrong with material things as long as one doesn’t lie,cheat and steal,” he says.

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