The Difference Between Bikram and Hot Yoga

Plus: The Rise and Fall of Bikram Choudhury

Bikram Choudhury in 1982
Bikram Choudhury in 1982. Joan Allen Photography/Archive Photos/Getty Images

What Is Hot Yoga?

Hot yoga can refer to any yoga class done in a heated room. The room is usually maintained at a temperature of 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit. Most often, hot yoga tends to be a flowing, vinyasa style of practice in which the teacher instructs a series of linked poses. As you can imagine, a vigorous yoga session at high temperature makes the body very warm and induces profuse sweating.

Popular hot yoga options include Canadian import Moksha Yoga (known as Modo Yoga in the United States) and CorePower Yoga, a rapidly expanding chain, as well as many other local heated classes. Bikram Yoga, however, is the original hot yoga.

What Is Bikram Yoga?

Bikram Choudhury is a hot yoga innovator. His method is a set series of 26 postures, including two pranayama exercises, each of which is performed twice in a single 90-minute class. Choudhury, who was born in Calcutta, India in 1946, was a yoga champion in his youth, as was his wife Rajashree. In 1974, Choudhury founded the Yoga College of India in Beverly Hills, California, to teach his method, which soon became one of the most popular styles of yoga asana practiced in the west. As Bikram's yoga classes began to draw members of the Hollywood elite, he embarked on an increasingly ostentatious lifestyle by flaunting a fleet of sports cars and wearing expensive jewelry.

In a Nutshell

All Bikram yoga is hot, but not all hot yoga is Bikram.

Hot Yoga Tips and Cautions

  • It is essential to have your own yoga mat when doing hot yoga since you will be sweating a lot. Yogitoes Skidless mat towels (or other similar products) are popular hot yoga accessories. These towels are placed over your mat to absorb sweat and improve traction.

Bikram Copyright and Sexual Assault Lawsuits

In 2002, Choudhury copyrighted his series of 26 poses done in a hot room and has since been involved in a number of legal disputes, both over the unauthorized use of his name, and, more recently, the use of his method under a different name. Choudhury successfully sued a Los Angeles yoga studio in 2003 for copyright and trademark infringement. He became the defendant in 2004 when he was sued by a San Francisco-based collective of hot yoga teachers who had received cease-and-desist letters over their unlicensed use of the Bikram method. The plaintiffs argued that yoga cannot be copyrighted but reached a settlement in 2005 in which Choudhury agreed not to sue them and they agreed not to use the Bikram name. Choudhury filed another high-profile suit in 2011, this time against the New York-based studio Yoga to the People, which offers yoga classes by donation in several U.S. cities.

This case was settled in 2012 when Yoga to the People owner Greg Gumucio agreed to stop using Bikram's name and series. Although the case didn't go to trial, it was significant because the U.S. Copyright Office announced that its previously issued copyright of Bikram's series was an error.

In 2015, the focus of Bikram's legal troubles shifted away from the pursuit of protection for his yoga method as he became the subject of at least six civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault or rape going back a number of years. Though the details vary, they indicate a pattern of Choudhury preying on young female yoga students and teachers, often those enrolled in his intensive teacher training program.

In early 2016, a Los Angles court ruled in favor of Choudhury's former legal advisor, who said that she was sexually harassed and fired from her position for investigating other women's harassment claims. Around the same time, Rajashree Choudhury filed for divorce. Bikram is rumored to have moved his headquarters back to India in response to dwindling enrollment in the teacher training programs that were his primary source of income.

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