His throne is usually an oversized easy chair. Inside the mirrored interior of his yoga studio in Beverly Hills, California, Bikram Choudhury teaches about 300 students every day, wearing a Speedo trunk and a diamond-studded wristwatch. His brand of improvised hatha yoga is the most widely practised form in the US; and Bill Clinton, Shirley McLaine and Madonna are some of his clients.
Now 56-year-old Choudhury believes India is ready to embrace his multi-million dollar enterprise, Bikram’s Yoga College of India. He was recently in Mumbai to finalise the location and finances for his first outlet.
“I thank Baba Ramdev for taking yoga to the Indian masses. Now that people are aware of yoga’s powers, they will get a taste of what I have to offer,” Choudhury told HT.
The school is scheduled to open by the middle of 2007, and he is counting on film bigwigs — Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan are two of the names he rattles off from the list of his high-profile Indian clients — to test the waters. No wonder the location is off Juhu beach, the hub of Mumbai’s tinsel town.
Bikram Yoga or Hot Yoga already has over 600 outlets across the world. Yet, Choudhury is as reviled as he is worshipped. Numerous legal suits punctuate Choudhury’s story — that of the rise of a struggling yoga instructor who arrived in the US in the 1970s to an LA millionaire who collects Bentleys and Rolls Royces for a hobby.
“But yoga is nobody’s property,” said Choudhury. A 90-minute session in the US costs $50 (Rs 2,225) and two months of teacher training costs $5,000 (Rs 2,22,500).
Local yoga exponents consider his brand unfavourable to Indian conditions. “It’s medically not advisable, especially for people who suffer from high blood pressure or weak limbs,” says fitness guru Mickey Mehta, who offers yoga classes at his six holistic health centres in Mumbai.