Interview Rajashree Choudhury on Bikram Yoga

by admin on August 23, 2013

Post image for Interview Rajashree Choudhury on Bikram Yoga

Interview Rajashree Choudhury on Bikram Yoga

Interview by Origin Magazine..


Question: In this country, the idea of yoga as a competitive sport is very controversial. And highly criticized.

Rajashree Choudhury: Yes. It’s very controversial. The Yoga Federation of India calls it “byayam,” which means exercise. People should be talking about “yoga asanas” as a competive sport. Because there are many forms of yoga. The most common two forms are hatha yoga and raja yoga. That’s mostly what people understand.

Raja yoga is the mental practice and incorporates meditation, pranayama, and mudra. What are the benefits of having a raja yoga practice? The benefit is spirituality. Can spirituality be measured? No. And we don’t try. What we are, what we are actually doing in the competition, is only hatha yoga. What’s the benefit of hatha yoga? Physical. What do you need to do hatha yoga? Physical body. That’s it. Breathing and spirit is a part of any sport. So that’s why hatha yoga can be a sport.


Question: The way any physical practice can be a competitive sport.

RC: Yes. Any physical practice can be a competitive sport. What level you can take postures to create the maximum challenge and show your maximum skill, maximum control—it’s not a combat game. It’s a benefit to you.

Rajashree Choudhury

Question: I think that people are under the misconception that competitive yoga is an American idea—one of my friends said that it’s is like taking the worst of American culture and imposing it on the best of Eastern spirituality. But, yoga competition has been going on for thousands of years in India.

RC: One hundred years it is documented with the Federation. We see that there were meets before that was going on. In India, it’s going fine. Everyone will jump for competition. Over here—now I’m going to say this—if you are being judgemental, that is non-yogic.


Question: I went to my first yoga competition recently, by your invitation. I had an open mind and open heart. I was happy to see what a warm and supportive atmosphere it was.

RC: One hundred percent.


Question: There were a variety of levels. Women who had more weight, women who were very skinny, very bendy, and some not so bendy. I found it really touching to see that when someone fell out of a pose, they got more cheers for getting back in and completing it.

RC: This is exactly the reason I’ve been trying to encourage people to come and watch this competition. These last ten years, we have been reaching out to all levels. It used to be that the participants were teachers and practitioners in great condition. Not anymore. You see more and more regular people coming up.Yoga is all about what you do, actually do, for yourself. Every competitor that is there is there for themselves.


Question: There is a misconception that the competitions are exclusively for the Bikram community. You say that’s not the case.

RC: That is not the case. We are open for everybody.


Question: Each participant showed seven poses—five compulsory, two optional—in three minutes. The five compulsory are all from the Bikram sequence of twenty-six.

RC: But let me tell you this also. There is another misconception that Bikram tried to copyright each individual pose. It’s the sequence being copyrighted and the dialogue being copyrighted, but those five postures are not in the sequence that way, in that order. Those five postures are authentic, traditional yoga poses, which is hatha yoga.

This competition is run by USA Yoga Federation. If you go to, you can find all the information. Competition has to be certain way. The postures have to be performed in a way that we can really judge. We have a Federation now, the Federation runs this competition. We have coaches’ clinic, judges’ clinic, athletes’ clinic. We follow rules and bylaws.


Question: Same as figure skating. Same as gymnastics.

RC: Exactly. And then USA Yoga is a member of the International Yoga Sports Federation. So we’ll see, you know. We are trying to work for asana yoga as a competitive sport. That’s the way, I think, more kids will practice. Otherwise we cannot bring the kids.


Question: So the idea is to bring yoga to more people—

RC: More people, more kids. Start yoga early. Sports brings people together. Sports brings community together. Sports keep you feeling cheerful, feeling spirited, it’s a kind of a thriving feeling. Which parents would not like to see their kids up there? Parents will support the kids. And the kids will go back and talk to other kids about it. So my next thing is to develop the kids’ program. We will start a camp, we will start a clinic, we will start clubs.

Rajashree Choudhury

Question: What inspires you?

Rajashree Choudhury: Women. I was raised by my grandmother. She had a very difficult time, raised all her kids, my father and everybody. Listening to those stories and finding her so strong, poised. Anybody who came close to her was made to feel blessed. And at the same time, it didn’t matter how strong a person was, in front of her, their head would go down. She carried through her life raising everybody. That is my model.


Question: Tell me about getting involved in yoga competition. You’re a champion.

RC: Yes, I am a champion. My mom made sure that I did yoga every day. She dragged me because that was something she was doing for herself. She would have a great time with her friends. All the mothers would sit together and the kids all did yoga.


Question: Like dance moms.

RC: Yeah, exactly. It was a social time for them. But it helped build me. Through competition I loved yoga. I won my first
Bishnu Ghosh Cup in 1982. Which was federation-based. I won several before that, but it was a private open, where men and women both were challenged together and one winner.


Question: Men and women against each other? And you won.

RC: I won. At the time, Bikram was giving the biggest trophy, he would bring the winner to America. So I came to Los Angeles.

Bikram and I, we come from the same lineage. But you know, there’s a generation gap.
My teacher and Bikram are contemporaries, they are friends. One stayed back to promote yoga in India and one came here to the Western world. That’s Bikram, because he is the best salesman, you know that. [smiles]

Bikram wasn’t big in India at that time. Here he was called, “Guru of the Stars.” I had seen his book and it was a beautiful practice but I didn’t like it. I was used to a more personal practice. So I was like, only 26 poses, every day, very routine. It didn’t appeal to me. And I didn’t like the heat at all, because I come from hot country. So it was like, Oh my god! But people were talking about it and feeling great benefit, so I finally gave it a try. And then I really started to see the possibilities of growing the school. I started to talk to him about teacher training. It took me 10 years to convince him. Men are always right, right? I said, well, try it, try it, try it. We did the first five teachers, unofficially, and it worked. Then we condensed the typical American 3 year training into a 3 month intensive. And that’s how we got to this point.


Question: How do you handle criticism?

RC: I listen to my own heart, stand for only that. That’s it. Doesn’t matter. Whoever, however close to me you may be. Nobody can change my emotions. Even if I am sad it’s my own problem, not somebody else’s.


Question: You take responsibility for yourself.

RC: It’s much better that way. You don’t accuse people. You aren’t a victim of anything. Becoming a victim is your choice. Cry, for what?


Question: We tend to take things personally…

RC: Things just happen, it will pass, it’s your learning process. You know, in my dialogue when I teach classes, I use “please.”


Question: [gasps] Bikram classes?!

RC: Yes, Bikram. You know, NOBODY says “please”. Because the Bikram dialogue is a very solid drilling method. And someone says, why do you even say it? I say, That’s the way I am. I love to say “please” and you have to accept me that way. If you don’t, it’s your problem.


Question: [laughs] Has your husband taken your class?!

RC: My husband wouldn’t like to take my class. Anytime I am up there on the stage, I think he thinks I’m the most boring teacher! No, I don’t let him. But you know, he supports me.


Question: He must support you. You are very empowered in this organization.

RC: Bikram put challenge in front of me, and to overcome that challenge, that’s my education from him. And I love that. I have no problem with that. People can think whatever they think, but that’s my strength to go forward.


Question: And you answer to your own heart.

RC: Exactly, exactly. And I don’t expect it will be easy. If it is easy, something’s wrong. But I expect it not to stop me.


Question: That’s beautiful, Rajashree.

RC: Thank you, Zoe


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