Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Bikram yoga creator heads to NZ

Bikram yoga founder's life mission is to share health benefits of techniques which saved the former weightlifter's crushed leg

There are 11 Bikram Choudhury yoga studios in New Zealand and more than 5000 worldwide. Photo / Supplied
There are 11 Bikram Choudhury yoga studios in New Zealand and more than 5000 worldwide. Photo / Supplied

The poster for Sunday's Auckland lecture by Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram yoga, shows the 65-year-old dressed in a shiny silver suit with crisp fedora hat and tie.

It's far from the robes and unruly facial hair of yoga cliches, but then so is Choudhury.

The self-proclaimed "yoga teacher to the stars" has attracted flak in the yoga world for unashamedly treating yoga and its 5000 years of tradition as a business.

There are now more than 5000 yoga studios teaching Bikram worldwide, with 11 in New Zealand.

Choudhury, on the phone from a hotel in Australia's Gold Coast, says: "I love [the criticism]. When you are in Rome, you must do as Roman does. I don't take it as criticism. That's called marketing, promotion and publicity."

The yogi is making a whistle-stop visit to raise funds for Christchurch's earthquake-damaged Bikram studio.

Owner Kate Burford mortgaged herself to the hilt to reopen the studio last October, with her father and stepmother also taking out loans.

Students wrote to Choudhury to ask for help.

Born in Bihar, one of India's poorest states, Choudhury calls Beverly Hills home after setting up his first yoga studio in Los Angeles in 1973.

He is comfortable with Bikram being labelled "Big Mac yoga".

According to Choudhury, in 1972 he was taken to Honolulu to treat former US President Richard Nixon's crippling phlebitis.

"I fixed him completely, perfect, in four months ... after that he lived 24 years and never had a problem. So my Greencard was a gift from Nixon, I never applied."

Choudhury is famed for peppering his speech with similar boasts.

BBC radio host Jolyon Jenkins tested some of Choudhury's claims. His conclusion: "Bikram's anecdotes may not be completely accurate."

Still, it's difficult not to be charmed by Choudhury's happy enthusiasm and unabashed love for legend-making.

He lists George Harrison, Shirley Maclaine, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Barbara Streisand, Madonna, and Lady Gaga as among past and present followers.

"Lady Gaga, she speaks about me every half an hour. You ask her any question, she will say Bikram."

The story goes that Choudhury was on course to win weightlifting gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics until 250kg of iron crushed his left leg in a training accident. Doctors said he would never walk again and the leg had to be amputated.

But after a year of yoga his leg was fixed and he made it his life mission to promote the health benefits of yoga.

Today, he looks much younger than his 65 years.

DETAILS: Lecture and book signing at Hotel Pullman, 4pm, January 15. Tickets $75 in advance, $85 door sales. All proceeds to help finance the relocation of Christchurch's Bikram studio. Get tickets here.

- NZ Herald

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