“To Err is human; to forgive, divine”—Alexander Pope
When people fuck with the integrity of the learning process, when they weaken it and make it soft, it corrupts individuals and society far more than we know or are willing to admit. Maybe, it’s that the can of worms is open and nobody knows how to get them all back in, or the culprits, kind people with likely decent intentions are afraid or embarrassed to admit their mistake and try to fix it. Maybe they feel too guilty to deal with the negative results that they just could not have predicted? Maybe they’re just weak and undisciplined. Maybe they are evil. I cannot talk in exact terms of correlation and causation. I am not a scientist, but after years working as a teacher in more than one field, my gut tells me that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
A former Facebook executive came out publicly to admit that Facebook contributed to corruption in the form of addictive feedback loops among users of social media. That’s an honest admission of guilt. Most people respect honesty, even from someone who is corrupt. At the time, the people at Facebook may have been unaware of the negative outcomes of their choices, decisions, or creations; maybe the consequences were intended or not; perhaps the creators did not understand the scope of the potential negative consequences at the time, but at least this one executive admitted to having erred and learned a terrible lesson. A big game of trial and error, where there’s now one score for that exec in the integrity category. Yes, people can still earn our respect (for these people can be our best teachers) even when they do terrible things, pre-meditated or accidentally with the best intentions. It’s really okay to admit an error; it’s okay to fail. It’s even better to be honest about it.
If we could only stop judging and communicating about complicated human issues using black and white approaches, reductionist thinking, and all-or-nothing terminology, perhaps more people would admit their mistakes and even work to correct them– ya know, stay humble, keep learning, make amends?
We are ALL flawed– each one of us. Everyone makes mistakes, which is actually the tragic irony here– because learning, by its very definition, is a simple process of trial and error. When you alter that very process, as many K-12 schools and universities seem to be doing, whether by “softening” or eliminating the “error” part, or by perhaps making the “trial” part too easy to guarantee success and avoid failure, or by substituting a safe space where no trials are allowed to happen at all (not sure what actually does happen in those spaces), you corrupt real learning; you weaken the learner. You alter the very definition of the term when you falsely manipulate or eliminate the necessary, usually painful or difficult, experiences a learner needs—er—to learn.
Yes, it might hurt a little bit.
We can already see the damage that weakening the authentic learning process contributes to in the form of skyrocketing levels of anxiety and depression, a lack of independence and coping skills, an increasingly longer list of “learning” disabilities, and lack of self-control and personal responsibility among young people; it’s also part of the equation of lack of consistent and effective discipline and safe-space-micro-aggression mentality and pedagogy in schools. The balance has been lost.
I cannot emphasize enough the degree to which the consequences of such alterations to the learning and teaching process will contribute to damaging young people and weakening the teaching profession and therefore damage and weaken the rest of our society. This cannot be blamed on a cultural shift, or increasing technology use, or the “kids are different these days” assumptions— the people in charge are fucking up, with wonderful, heartfelt intentions (sometimes, but I often wonder), but fucking up nonetheless.
Can we become responsible for our errors?
Can we stop ignoring morality or any discussion of right and wrong in this world simply because we are all deeply flawed and immoral?
Can we reinstate the integrity of learning?
When we mess with the learning process: slightly changing it here, and then a little bit there, and oh, just cut this seemingly small corner here, and make this tiny little exception there– just this once, for this one person only, I swear! When we alter a philosophy, even the little applications of that philosophy—and we don’t allow authentic learning to be what it is—often difficult and uncomfortable, maybe painful, at what point is it no longer learning? At what point, to what degree does it lose its identity as itself? Where is the line? How do you know your crossing it? When is it entirely corrupt and transformed into something else, beyond recognition? How far down the road have we traveled, and can we turn back? Balance needs to be restored.
I see this sad phenomenon of imbalance and compromising integrity happening within public education and similarly within the now-fragmented Bikram yoga community.
Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises assembled in a particular order, using precise, detailed commands to be recited in a specific order (called a dialogue) over the span of ninety minutes to achieve specific results and designed for beginners and every body type. This school of beginners yoga requires dialogue to be delivered orally by a Bikram yoga certified teacher who stands in a specific location in a “hotroom” (on a podium) which is a specifically designed environment with specific temperature and humidity levels.The students take their place in this environment in a specific way as well, on yoga mats, facing mirrors and under specific kinds of lighting. Bikram yoga teachers are trained by Bikram himself at a Bikram-certified training.
So, I ask you…
If a teacher who has not been trained and certified by Bikram walks around the room observing students from various angles while teaching and using words that differ from the commands of the dialogue, is that a Bikram yoga class? Can we call that teacher a Bikram yoga teacher? Can we call a studio with such teachers a Bikram yoga studio, or a hot yoga studio using the Bikram yoga method?
What percentage of Bikram yoga makes Bikram yoga, Bikram yoga? Do we need math to solve this obvious corruption? Where’s the line where the integrity of something is gone? If we are talking about school— a place where the learning process happens, then the degree to which this happens the right way matters— a lot! It doesn’t take much to alter the integrity of the process for the detriment of students. The same goes for Bikram yoga.
A popular argument espoused by some people who have corrupted Bikram yoga—-pussified, weakened, and softened it—-those who use the Bikram name to brand their own ripped-off versions, use a clever and believable sleight of hand argument to hide their own corruption. Because Bikram Choudhury himself, the man and creator of this yoga series and dialogue, has committed corruption in his personal and professional dealings, the people who stole his yoga use Bikram’s lack of integrity to mask or hide their own. And it stinks of hypocrisy. Justifying theft and dishonesty by pointing a finger at a weak, corrupt person—and away from one’s own weaknesses and corruption— how cliche. It’s exactly like a child’s emotional reaction when accused by his parent of bad behavior to spew, “Yeah, but he did it too!”
Another popular argument is based on a few former-Bikram teachers’ anger, frustration, and disappointment over Bikram’s stubborn foolishness– his stupidity as a businessman because he will not allow these people to take over or change his Bikram Teacher Training model and methods. Bikram has surely shot himself in the foot. These former Bikram-loyalists, those who love this yoga and understand its power and beauty and its value (which is why they want to spread it and be part of its success and benefit from it, exploit it for gain, personal and professional) wanted the ability to train teachers themselves, in locations of their choosing and convenience. Perhaps they also wanted to correct what they deemed flawed about the series or the dialogue, or the philosophy of strict discipline, or add their own flare, or unfranchise it, if you will.
But because Bikram did not give them his blessing or whatever it was they wanted, because he was unrelenting or uncooperative or just a downright dumb asshole and said no, which was his prerogative and it doesn’t matter his reasons or lack of rationality or rationale, these very nice, smart, capable lovers-of-Bikram yoga went ahead anyway and started their own teacher trainings. Some other of these very awesome yogis (I am not being sarcastic) were studio owners or became studio owners and began training their own teachers, using Bikram’s dialogue or slightly altered versions they created. Next, the dishonest actions of a few justified the dishonest actions of many, the floodgates opened, and now we have an almost entirely weakened, confused, and less-than-optimal Bikram yoga community, it’s identity and integrity not-entirely-ruined by diluted methods, changed philosophy, and dishonesty. But, I am confident that the truth shall prevail.
Studio owners who promote or define themselves, in one way or another, as a Bikram Yoga studio (even if the business name does not contain “Bikram”) and work to preserve the integrity of Bikram yoga– its philosophies, methods of instruction, conditions and environment, as well as its certification of it teaching staff—- is a true Bikram studio, 100%. It’s a studio with integrity. Most people appreciate integrity and honesty. And Bikram yoga, properly, is undeniably one of the most healing, transformative forms of yoga around and has been for almost 60 years. Integrity and truth will always prevail.
But is it right for studios that only do 75% of what’s required to call the yoga and their studio, “Bikram?” What if only slightly more than 50%? What about 85%?
Fake-Bikram teacher trainings that now “certify” teachers to teach Bikram yoga and studios who claim to be Bikram but are not, dishonestly capitalize, financially and otherwise, by hiring these unofficial Bikram teachers. Sorry, but that’s just wrong. Why can’t people object to bad behavior anymore? Will I be attacked for even writing about this?
Many of these unofficially trained teachers refer to themselves as “Bikram Yoga Teachers,” and that compromises my integrity as a genuine Bikram yoga teacher, something I worked hard to earn and something I believe in very deeply, something uniquely meaningful to me, as it is to so many of the other official Bikram teachers from all over the world who have shared this concern with me over my previous year of travel. Just because a few students had severely negative experiences and resent their trainings and hate Bikram, doesn’t mean that the entire training was corrupt. It simply is not true, yet an illogical conclusion that many consistently claim and use to justify their own bad behavior.
Fake-Bikram teachers use parts of the Bikram method, compromise the series of postures in various ways (for the express and other hybrid classes, for example), and alter the original Bikram dialogue by changing words and order of words, diction and syntax–which the last time I checked in my English teacher manual are key parts of the grammatical structure of our language. It’s how we understand one another and make meaning– specific meaning. There’s no such thing as, “well, close enough” when you are trying to help people be the best they can be by following a prescription to heal and be well. Would you use that logic with your sick dog? “Eh, it’s okay if Rover only gets bits and pieces of his medication. Close enough.”
The Bikram series is a disciplined practice where you do what you’re told, not what your ego wants. You take your medicine exactly as prescribed, like it or not. Yes, it’s hard, and people don’t like that. They resist, or they don’t come back. Adults can be just as bratty as kids and they make excuses all the time, but weak teachers contribute to this monkey mind phenomenon among students by being afraid to hold the line with them– by administering tough love. Just like overly-indulgent parents, the helicopter kind, this kind of teaching spoils students, thus making them weaker, rather than stronger, both emotionally, psychologically, or physically. Hence— pussification.
I know, I know. I say something that might be true, and it hurts, so surely I’ll be criticized for lacking compassion, because in the make-believe world where fake-Bikram yoga teachers live, apparently people cannot be truthful and compassionate at the same time. I believe we call that tough love, in the real world. I was also accused of being “mean” when I told the truth about an underperforming student at an IEP meeting at my former high school job. How dare I share honest observations about a child with disabilities! How insensitive to use the truth to reach accurate conclusions and diagnoses!
Spare the rod, spoil the child is happening all over our society and in our yoga studios. It’s why I see more and more yogis using towels, guzzling water every posture, and rolling around acting crazy in savasana, asking out-loud for more fan or please open the door, coming in to the classroom late, leaving early, insisting on cell phones because they have to, they have special circumstances. It’s the same “exceptionalism” happening in K-12 public schools and universities all over this country. It all sounds suspiciously snowflakish to me.
To intentionally violate Bikram yoga’s integrity, calling the alterations to the dialogue “improvements,” calling alterations to its purpose “necessary” or “safer” or whatever else works to justify such corruption is the same thing as manipulating an unsuspecting victim as follows:
“This [corruption] is for your own good, my Darling. Don’t listen to the conservatives who don’t welcome change. Don’t listen to the dialogue nazi’s who believe that individual words, sentences, syntax of language have specific meaning. We should all welcome change! Change is growth! Change makes us better! New! and improved! These people need to get with the times. They must not know how to deal with their fear and their clinging. They don’t understand “yoga.” We are just only slightly “different” that’s all; and Darling, these defenders of the integrity of the Bikram yoga and its dialogue that defines it– they don’t accept “differences,” they are what you call “intolerant.” And Darling, precision means uptight, over-bearing, too structured, and who likes that? Any old words that are close-enough will do– they have to just relax and let go of their expectations; Go with the flow; there is no such thing as “good” or “bad”; it’s all how you choose to look at it.”
Oh, I would laugh if this wasn’t so sad and exactly what is ruining our society today in the realm of politics and education. It’s our post-truth world! It’s frightening that people think they can just change language because they cannot handle the truth, yet they do, and unsuspecting or stupid people go along with it. An appreciation for the necessary existence of and interaction between left and right, liberal and conservative, order and chaos is missing. But I digress.
All of these “harmless” alterations, yet, these thieves still refer to what they teach as BIKRAM YOGA. They have indisputably changed Bikram yoga, yet still use the Bikram name and brand, whether through marketing and promotion which includes Google search terms, word-of-mouth referrals, or other means. They not only violate the integrity of Bikram yoga, yet want to capitalize on the amazing value they know it holds! How is this individual corruption and dishonesty different from Bikram Choudhury’s? Oh– it’s a matter of degree, is it? Ironic. And tragic. All of it disgusting.
I don’t know if I am more disappointed and angry with Bikram— for not having had better business sense, better foresight for the survival and continuation of an authentic Bikram training– or those thieves who have meddled with the integrity of Bikram yoga. Both parties have contributed to create the mess that currently exists (see bulleted list below). This isn’t a question about the degree to which some party is more or less at fault, more or less corrupt, because the answer about integrity is clear—making a poor business decision is mere stupidity, but stealing and lying are stealing and lying. One is a violation of integrity, and the other, well just plain old stupid. And, obviously, people who lie don’t exactly like the truth or talking about the truth; usually they just use more lies, sleights-of-hands and semantics, to bolster their own corruption.
I enjoy listening people try to talk their way out of things, believe their own bullshit. I am familiar with it within myself, and I’ve spent my career observing it in others. Do we, or do we not, encourage yogis to discover their limits, both physical and mental, including their mental masturbation, during class through honest attention?
Bikram’s lack of personal integrity is an absolute fact, one his detractors and admirers definitely would not dispute, but his personal failures have nothing to do with stealing his yoga and calling it your own. You can be both, simultaneously, a perpetrator and a victim; nasty people can do good things; good people can do nasty things. This is our nature; this is our world.
- When people looking for Bikram yoga google “Bikram yoga” they might find the following:
- A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio.
- A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio or some derivation or something else that may or may not include yoga.
- A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio AND has Bikram in its name.
- A Bikram studio that is an actual (as in, self-actualization) Bikram yoga studio.
- A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there are no Bikram certified teachers who teach Bikram yoga there.
- A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach Bikram yoga there.
- A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach something akin to Bikram yoga or a derivation (because of new training, illegitimate training, or lack of ability) there, and still call it Bikram yoga.
- A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach something akin to Bikram yoga or a derivation there (as in, a 60 minute or otherwise altered classes and environments) and, still, call it Bikram yoga.
Maybe there are more but I cannot continue to enumerate the seemingly endless permutations of how a pure and simple form of yoga has been watered down, pussified, and weakened. Seriously.
Here’s the good news, folks. ALL kinds of studios can survive, if they conduct their business with integrity. And, please, my friends who are reading this, especially my actual friends, my description of the current state of affairs within the yoga community is not personal. I truly mean that. I love the people I work with who don’t teach a lick of dialogue. I love my friends who are excellent 26 & 2 teachers or whatever non-Bikram label they should be calling themselves. I love the studio owners who ask me to teach the express class and to whom I politely refuse; the owners who employed me and treated me well while running their own trainings with their own altered-dialogue. The studio owners who turn a blind eye to students who are confused because they are getting conflicting information in class due to the differences between Bikram and non-Bikram teachers. I am not waging a personal attack– I am shining a spotlight on the current state of affairs, based on my personal experiences and observations.
What I know about the non-Bikram trainings and their staff is impressive, competent, dynamic, life-affirming. Awesome, but technically, you’re existence no matter how talented and kind, is still rooted in inauthenticity. The people who run illegitimate studios and trainings, those who are known and unknown to me who have ripped-off, watered-down, or otherwise pussified the integrity of Bikram yoga– I would guess that probably, most likely, maybe nearly everyone is a lovely, kind, human being, with the best of intentions, but can we just call a spade a spade?
Can we make the distinction clear for everyone? Can we tell the truth to be clear to the public, to current students and potential students, and potential teachers?
The engineers at Facebook manned-up, so I think redemption can happen within the Bikram yoga community too. Each individual involved with this yoga can start defending its integrity, to name it properly, accurately and specifically, teach it the right way, try to practice it the right way, even if it’s the hard way.
If our still-loyal, dialogue-driven, Bikram Yoga community can be clear about its identity and its integrity, then it should clear up a lot of confusion and more people can thrive– especially the clients, who are the future of Bikram yoga and the people we are trying to serve with this yoga in the first place.
“It’s never too late, you’re never too old, never too sick, too bad, to start from scratch once again” as Bikram likes to say. And, since he gave us this yoga, maybe, just maybe, his detractors could even begin to forgive him for his limitations, his errors, his ugliness– the human qualities we loathe about him— the same ones we fear and struggle to manage within ourselves—-with the help of mirrors, under the bright lights, in the torture chamber– because that is our yoga, after all.