By JAIME C. LAYA

With the Master (from left): Your columnist, Bikram Chowdhury, and Ollay Aninion, head of Bikram Yoga Manila

With the Master (from left): Your columnist, Bikram Chowdhury, and Ollay Aninion, head of Bikram Yoga Manila

Talk yoga and “Bikram” pops up—that’s Bikram Chowdhury, 74. Not many people have that kind of word association, particularly with a complex of practices that’s as old as Christianity (2,000 years old) and that seeks to enhance physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It has many schools—Ashtanga, Hatha, Karma, Bikram, etc.—including (would you believe) Laya Yoga. Going into each of these is beyond me, but yoga is now established everywhere, primarily as a physical exercise.
On and off for several years now, I’ve been going to Makati’s Bikram Studio where beauties like Tessa ValdezVicky BeloIzza Agana, and Nina Ongpin also show up when I’m lucky. While I can’t say yoga has altered me spiritually or mentally, it certainly helped keep my weight at status quo, improved my balance, and kept me flexible.
There are any number of poses or postures—contortions, really—that have evolved over the millenia. Bikram Yoga leaves out poses that require an ambulance on standby, like standing on one’s head, bending back far enough to touch the floor and be like an inverted “U”, etc. Chowdhury picked, sequenced, and timed 26 relatively safe poses, to be executed in a 40ÂșC environment that supposedly is how hot it is in India.
A Bikram Yoga session is one-and-a-half hours in a closed and heated room (“torture chamber,” Chowdhury calls it) where yogi and yogini deploy body and limbs in 26 poses (“asanas”) of which 12 are done standing and 14 on the floor. There are two breathing exercises and a “dead body” pose, No. 13 that keeps me going through the first 12. It’s what it says, lying down flat though with eyes open. The other 23 poses stretch or twist body parts left and right, backward and forward, upward and downward. Emphasis is on the spine but other parts are not forgotten. Pose No. 10 (Standing Separate-Leg Head-to-Knee), for example, helps regulate the pancreas and revitalizes kidneys. Pose No. 14 (Wind Removing) compresses one’s ascending and descending colons (I didn’t know I have two). Pose No. 23 (Rabbit) regulates metabolism even as my adam’s apple complains.
Sessions have been suspended with the Covid-19 lockdown, but I never noticed much coughing or sneezing in the past—only the healthy dare enroll. Anyway, social distancing is an issue with people practically shoulder-to-shoulder in certain poses. Air circulation is also nil.
Chowdhury was in Manila recently and as the Makati Studio’s token senior, Bikram guru Ollay Aninion took me to meet him. We have our well-known international names like Jollibee and San Miguel Beer and I was interested in how Bikram did it.
A personable and loquacious man, Chowdhury recounted his somewhat incredible life story. He said he grew up Calcutta and practiced Hatha Yoga at age three. At five, he began studying with famous Master Bishnu Ghosh and won the National India Yoga Championship for three consecutive years. Still in his teens, he moved to Bombay in 1965 to establish an independent practice. By then he had already perfected the Bikram Yoga sequence.
Success followed success. At Tokyo University Hospital in 1970, Chowdhury continued, he attracted attention by helping cure a bone cancer patient. By 1971 he was a well-known chiropractor in Honolulu and was invited to ease President Richard Nixon’s phlebitis. Delighted with the outcome, President Nixon wrote him a “Welcome to America” letter, visa attached.
This enabled Chowdhury to open studios in Honolulu, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He thought of franchising and in 1993 inaugurated a nine-week teacher training program. By 2000, he also had studios in La Cienega, Beverly Hills, Acapulco, and Palm Desert and thousands of certified instructors with hundreds of Bikram studio franchises all over the world. “Before me, there was no money, no business with yoga,” he said. Indeed, it is estimated that at least 16.5 million people now practice yoga.
The Master suffered some setbacks recently. Success bred competition and he sought to prevent others from using his sequence of asanas, citing how musicians copyrighted songs, symphonies, operas, etc., that were all sequences of just seven notes. He lost. He also lost a sexual harassment case—the jury and Judge must have disbelieved his claim that he did not need to harass anyone because he had been offered “a million dollars for a drop of my sperm.”
Setbacks notwithstanding, it is incredible how apart from the lucre it generated, Chowdhury has linked his first name to an ancient practice and made “Bikram” recognized worldwide.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to walangwala888@gmail.com


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/05/19/yoga-gets-hot/)