Netflix Documentary Affects Yoga Industry

While yoga has been a discipline of many for several centuries, the concept of “Bikram” yoga has seen a huge increase in popularity since its creation during the 1970s.

However a recent documentary on Netflix, focusing on claims of sexual abuse against founder Bikram Choudhury, has forced many yoga studios to invest thousands of dollars on rebranding in an attempt to keep hold of their share of the $16 billion Americans spend on the industry each year.

Family-owned yoga company Bikram Yoga Scarsdale has received many emails over the past year from clients asking why they have not changed their name and if they are even going to. Co-owner and yoga instructor Nicole Pike spoke about the effects the sexual abuse claims and company name has had on her business, confirming that they have had to rebrand. The company will now be known as Sweat Central and offers “original hot yoga” rather than Bikram classes in a further attempt to distance themselves from Choudhury.

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator is currently available on Netflix and takes a look at the life of Bikram Choudhury, who made a fortune thanks to his trademarked Bikram hot yoga empire. However the main focus is on the numerous sexual abuse claims from women against him.

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When allegations first started to appear over six years ago many yoga studios changed the names of their classes and studios in an attempt to distance themselves away from Choudhury while staying true to the original teachings, with Pike confirming that:

“While the classes themselves are amazing, Bikram the person has done terrible things we in no way want to be associated with. We want people to feel comfortable at our studio, and confident that their money is in no way supporting him.”

With this in mind she is spending around $20,000 on rebranding to keep her customers’ faith and trust in her business rather than stopping providing the actual classes.

Choudhury was once seen as a leader of mental and physical healing among the world’s yogi community, thanks to his form of hot yoga, which involved a sequence of 26 postures carried out for 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees. According to research the exercise has provided many benefits to students, including improving endurance and lowering stress levels as well as aiding mindfulness and mental strength. It is also practiced to help improve balance, tone muscle and increase your flexibility.

Yoga as an industry has seen a massive growth worldwide with the sector now worth a staggering $80 billion in America alone, with $16 billion being spent each year not just on the classes but also on equipment, accessories and specific clothing. With over half of us using yoga as a much needed stress relief aid a further 59 percent claims it helps them to sleep better.

Still Hot Yoga in Druid Hills, Georgia used to be called Bikram Yoga Decatur until assault allegations started to surface in 2014, prompting studio owner Cleve Willis to change the name making sure his students would not link his studio with Choudhury.

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Willis spent $1,500 in preparation for the backlash he said he could see coming. However, while he changed the studio’s name, signage and accessories, Bikram classes still appears on the schedules so as not to confuse clients that may be searching specifically for these classes online.

“They can still see we’re not associated with the guy, but we do the actual traditional class. Someone new coming into town may not know what it is. That’s why we didn’t change the name of the class.”

With roughly 36 million Americans taking part in yoga, an increase from 20.4 million in 2012, 72 percent are women. This has led to a #metoo style movement throughout the yoga community with many teachers as well as students coming forward to discuss unwanted touching in classes as many instructors are providing hands-on corrections without the student’s consent.

Unfortunately for 29 year old instructor Kelsey Lowe from Bikram Yoga Harlem in New York, she has had first hand experience of this abuse. Working with a male instructor at a different New York City studio she says this backlash has not come as a shock to her. Talking about her experience she says:

“He was coming to adjust me, but it was a little too close for comfort. You can feel someone’s body up against yours and it’s like, “I don’t even know this guy’s last name” kind of thing.”

After the incident she chose to change studios and works within her current studio, both practicing and teaching yoga. However she believes leaders gaining “cult-like followings” – such as Choudhury – aids sexual misconduct as “you can’t give all this power to one person.”

It is hoped that the backlash from the Netflix documentary will not affect the business in a negative way, rather making sure that unwanted actions are eradicated for good.