Online Protestors Express Outrage in Response to Bikram Choudhury’s Scheduled Classes in Canada
This article originally appeared on Yoga Journal
On February 20, Bikram Choudhury--the founder of hot yoga and the defendant in seven civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault, rape, discrimination, harassment, or wrongful termination--is scheduled to headline a week-long series of classes in Vancouver, British Columbia. The event is being promoted as “Boss is back!”
But “Boss” of who, exactly?
Not Canadians. As word of Choudhury's return to Vancouver makes its way throughout the yoga community and beyond, people are taking part in an online uprising. Many of the responses express dismay that Choudhury--who left the United States, failed to pay a jury-mandated judgment of more than $7.4 million, and had a warrant issued for his arrest in 2017--could be allowed to enter the country.
"I have felt a number of times that we have a tendency in yoga circles to let people get away with things and try to avoid conflict for fear of appearing judgmental or mean," says Colin Hall, the owner of Bodhi Tree Yoga in Regina, Saskatchewan. Hall, who has taught yoga for more than 20 years, shared an open letter to the organizers of the event calling for it to be shut down.
"I will not stay silent," said Hall. "I just won't." That sentiment has been voiced by others in recent days. The following is a look at what is taking place.
A post titled "Bikram Choudhury (Rapist and predator) coming to Vancouver" appeared in the "Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Earth" group on the social platform Reddit. It features the "Boss is back!" poster that Canada Yoga Sports Federation (CYSF) is using to promote the upcoming event.
So far, the thread has drawn 1500 votes and more than 200 comments, including questions--rhetorical and otherwise--as well as suggestions.
"People are not let into Canada for way lesser offenses. I wonder how one would flag this for the Border Services Agency?" asked one commenter. Someone else answered with a link to the Canada Border Services Agency watch line.
Another commenter encouraged others to direct concerns to the Marriott Parq Vancouver, which is the site for the week-long series of classes and lectures with Choudhury. "Hi folks, commenting on this post isn't enough. Info@ParqVancouver.com is their email and it is 100% worth sending an email."
The Vancouver Sun published the article "Controversial Bikram yoga founder’s planned Vancouver workshops raising flags." The article outlines allegations against Choudhury, including those of a Vancouver woman.
On Change.org, someone launched a petition titled "Stop Bikram Choudhury from hosting Yoga Seminar at the Parq Marriott, Vancouver." It's drawn more than 2000 signatures and elicited dozens of comments.
One commenter posted "Don't we pride ourselves on keeping women safe?" Another stated, "This has to stop. I stand with the survivors." Someone else offered a call to action referring to the Marriott: "Maybe warn them that this P.O.S. wouldn’t pass their own Patron Code Of Conduct."
The petition has also been shared on Twitter.
On Instagram, Hall dedicated an episode of "The Yoga News," an occasional video series, to the Vancouver situation. In the three-minute reel, he recaps the allegations against Choudhury and then deadpans, "And apparently now we're going to welcome him into Canada."
After inquiring, "Who do we have to thank for this lovely thing?" Hall answers his own question, citing the CYSF. The reel then shares a screenshot of the CYSF "Contact" page showing its email address. "On their website, they say 'Let's connect.'" says Hall. "So I encourage you to connect."
The reel ends with Hall saying, “We're not putting up with this. This is not okay.”
Less than 24 hours after sharing "The Yoga News" video, Hall posted an open letter to the organizers of the event on Instagram requesting that they cancel the event. The letter asserts "Bikram Choudhury should never teach yoga again."
If you are a victim of sexual assault, there are resources that can provide support at any time of day or night. In Canada, you can call the Women Against Violence Against Women Crisis and Information Line at 877-392-7583. In the United States, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or reach out via confidential online chat at online.rainn.org.
About Our Contributors
Sarah Herrington is a writer and educator who has been teaching for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Yoga Journal and she's passionate about safety in yoga and meditation spaces. For years she taught yoga in NYC public schools and out of that experience founded the OM Schooled teacher training. She now runs Mindful Writing Workshops combining writing and meditation and loves holding space for other writers to speak from the heart. She holds MFAs from NYU and Lesley University and has more than 500 hours of yoga training. She is grateful for both the paths of writing and yoga.
Renee Marie Schettler is a senior editor at Yoga Journal and has worked on staff as an editor at The Washington Post, Real Simple, and various online media platforms. She started studying yoga nearly 20 years ago with teachers in New York City who emphasized the challenging of finding precise alignment in a posture. Her understanding of yoga changed when she began studying with teachers who believe the practice is less about how we execute the posture and more about whether we can surrender into the experience of it. Renee finds that editing, writing, and practicing yoga are each about becoming more aware of truth. She has been teaching yoga since 2017.
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