Local yoga teacher saw no sexual abuse from Bikram founder

Local yoga teacher saw no sexual abuse from Bikram founder
BALANCE AND CONTROL: Ms Diane Lee showing one of the 26 postures in Bikram yoga — the Standing Bow Pulling Pose.

He is Bikram Choudhury, 69, the father of the famous Bikram yoga.

The reach of Bikram yoga is so far and wide that you can find a Bikram yoga-affiliated studio in almost every continent.

The man now finds himself in the midst of allegations of sexual assault and rape by women who had attended his classes.

Ms Diane Lee, 46, director of BYCH Hot Yoga here, had trained under him in 2004 at his international headquarters in Los Angeles.

She has been practising yoga since 2001 and Bikram yoga since 2003.

She says he never behaved inappropriately towards her and she did not see him misbehave with the other female students either.

But he had a habit of saying politically incorrect things.

"He said that all the time in my training. We just laughed about it.

People did say that enough is enough and it is true, it was wrong.

"But we all knew he is politically incorrect. He just says what he thinks.

That is his character," she says.

Ms Lee knows him and his family, although she clarifies that they have not been in contact since 2013.

She says: "I am very good friends with his wife, we travelled a few times together.

I am sure he is a smart guy. He can tell your character really clearly."

COLOURFUL GUY

She is hesitant to discuss the claims of sexual attacks, describing Choudhury as a colourful guy.

Instead, she says she focused on his skills as a yoga teacher.

She says: "The yoga really works.

He is a colourful guy, but he will always try to separate his personal issues so they do not affect his business."

But she says, given the empire he has built, it is not easy.

"Globally, he has affiliated studios from Moscow to Rio."

In 2006, she brought Bikram yoga to Singapore.

"You have to separate the person from the yoga."

She says the training environment was different when she was there in 2004.

Ms Lee says: "We were training at the headquarters, the setting was different.

Nowadays, it is like a resort, a retreat.

"I was lucky, my training was the third one that year, so it was small, we had fewer than 100 people."

But in the course she attended a few years back, the class had grown to 300 to 400 students.

Eventually, she moved away from his brand of yoga.

Part of the problem was that she was allowed to use only Bikram-trained teachers. And they could not be locally trained.

"As a business, people come and go, we cannot wait for a group of teachers to be trained and then come in."

By January 2013, she started toying with the idea of rebranding.

And when the allegations hit in March that year, it set the stage for her to formally break away.

"It was only right that we took the name out.

Because we want to do 60-minute class and it (does) not comply with (Bikram) policy. Plus, we don't really want to hire the teachers from there."

LOCAL TEACHERS

She now has teachers from Singapore and they have been working out.

Even then, teachers who complete Bikram's nine-week course were not always ready to teach, she says.

"Basically, it is the principle of who can teach a good class. It has to have more value than a piece of certificate," she says.

Some students have asked her about the allegations.

"A student asked if he (Bikram) will come here to teach.

If he were to, she said she would never sign up," she says.

But she does not see the allegations hurting the local market.

"It is easier for us since we moved away two years ago. I don't think it will affect us a lot."

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