How the scandal is affecting the Bikram community: Tricia Donegan responds

Tricia Donegan Bikram Yoga Lower East Side Lady Gaga

Tricia Donegan is the owner of Bikram Yoga Lower East Side, and also happens to be Lady Gaga’s yoga teacher.

The lawsuit against Bikram Choudhury, which alleges the hot-yoga pioneer sexually harassed and abused a former student, has been heavily reported on in the press.

But the massive, passionate community of teachers and students who practice Bikram, whom Choudhury’s fall from grace affects the most, has largely been ignored.

We checked in with Tricia Donegan, one of New York’s top Bikram instructors, and the owner of Bikram Yoga Lower East Side, and asked her to weigh in on how the scandal has affected her studio—and how she sees this impacting the larger Bikram community. Here’s what she had to say:

How has the lawsuit affected the day-to-day at your studio? Are students upset and asking you about it? Nothing has changed in my studio on a day-to-day basis. We have always been grateful for this series Bikram has brought to us while we practice for ourselves. We practice confidence within vulnerability. We practice so that we can do more than we think we can. In the Lower East Side, we own ourselves, our bodies, and we have taken ownership of the yoga we practice. I’m sure people are upset, though I have fielded many more questions from the press and from non-practitioners than I have from my students.

How do you respond to the questions and concerns people do have? These are my thoughts: Men continue to wield power over women in every realm of our society and in every workplace. There is somewhat more outcry when harassment is egregious, but on a day-to-day basis, there still exists pervasive sexual harassment in workplaces throughout this country. There is no reason to think that the yoga business, the yoga world, doesn’t have these same problems. This is an important opportunity for our community to recognize, reveal, and discuss this issue and hopefully create change.

Do you feel like you need to distance yourself from Bikram Choudhury or stand behind him as a community? We need to be able to separate the practice we believe in—a practice we believe improves health and well-being—from the issue of sexual harassment. Stopping the yoga will not change the power dynamics that allow sexual harassment to exist.

Going forward, how do you see this affecting your studio and the larger Bikram community? I am a woman and I own a Bikram Yoga business where I ensure an environment free of sexual harassment. It’s an issue I have had to address within my business, and I have.

The Bikram Yoga community very much believes in this yoga because it is healing and that will go unchanged. Yoga is spread by gurus and led by instructors, but gurus and instructors do not own the yoga. I teach my students the importance of making their yoga their own. I want my students to own their yoga and own their achievements and their failures.

In terms of community and reputation, it is important to remember how terribly difficult, expensive, and isolating it is to speak out against sexual harassment. It is potentially devastating in a workplace. It takes a community to ensure resources and support are in place for women to challenge sexual harassment without fearing for their livelihood. Right now, I think the Bikram Yoga community recognizes that. We are invested in this yoga and in wellness. This is an opportunity for our community to look within itself, and to become healthier and stronger. —Lisa Elaine Held

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  1. April 1st, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Well put~

  2. April 1st, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Is anyone REALLY surprised that yet another yoga teacher has abused their position in the community? Really disheartening.

  3. April 3rd, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    hey hey hey!! just a minute, a man like Bikram is not like the average man in the world, sure he is human & sure he has faults and weaknesses, but to harass sexually a student? c´monn, how old is that student? could it be the other way around? the student inciting the urges of a man in a weak moment? a yoga studio is a macro social enviroment where you get to meet similar mind frame people, and form relations, so live the guru alone,support him in a moment of weakness,and as for the student? her motive was…?

  4. April 3rd, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Honestly, I’m not surprised by this at all.

  5. April 19th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I cannot believe he is only getting busted now. This was a long time coming. The guy is not only a sexist and abuser of his position but sadly he also has misogynist tendencies. Yes the series of postures is VERY effective but keep in mind Hatha yoga is much older than him. Get over your self, egotistical guru.

    I speak from experience with him. Anyone of his “teachers” (read: skit memorizers for the most part) are brainwashed if they cannot admit he is a womanizer. If you took a teacher training you HAD ti have witnessed this behavior. If you missed it then you really need to work on your awareness!

  6. July 30th, 2013 at 11:08 am

    It has happened with Kripalu, Anasura, & Bikram yoga… First, where tantra yoga comes from is a different culture than modern day America. I agree that we need to change the power dynamics between men & women and also recognize that the world has existed as primarily a male-dominated society that has affected everything from art, religion, and also yoga. Bikram had a reputation though. So I am not very surprised. The only one I trust entirely is God because man has flaws. We have to stop consciously & unconsciously giving away our power & instead of looking externally, look inward to our own inner compass & essence where we are made in the image of God & God’s goodness. Each & every one of us has a divine power that can be used for good. We just have to go inside to find it. ‘Find it, keep it, hold it, & share it’. Namaste’.

  7. February 24th, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    What is most troubling about this article is the fact that not once does it mention that actual fact that Bikram is being accused of forcible Rape y several women, in addition to harassment, abuse, etc. No matter how many times Tricia tries to frame this as a scandal of “Sexual Harassment” (She says it 4 times), it will not change the fact that this is so far beyond harassment. The only question for me at this point is, is her pussyfooting around the actual issue a deliberate attempt to Whitewash, or is it unconscious denial-as-defense-mechanism by a business owner with a stake? Also, there are six Civil Lawsuits against him, not one as the article tries to float.

  8. February 24th, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    I do not know if he assaulted anyone. Innocent until proven guilty. And to the NAME comment…we know who you are sister. You are mad because your studio flopped because of rude customer service as detailed on your yelp account. You are also upset because you tried to put a 60 minute Bikram class into motion and Bikram told you to cease the shortened class. You then went on to open under a new name with flunky teachers and extra rude customer service(I know first hand as you were rude to me and my black boyfriend) and the 60 minute express Bikram class anyways. SO we know why you are mad. And your studio is now closed.
    He is being accused of rape yes. Have you been to 6 teacher trainings to see how the white women throw themselves at his feet willing to do anything to get under him? Let’s talk about that. Why are so many white women always throwing themselves at him and then when they don’t get the shine that they need they begin to allege that he did this and that?
    I’ve seen first hand how the women at these trainings act when in the presence of this brown guru. I don’t feel Tricia is white washing anything. She is speaking about her experiences at her studio. She can’t speak on accusations because she was in TT and saw women throw themselves at him as well. You would have to be blind not to see it!
    So in America…you are innocent until proven guilty.
    Tiffany Amelia Rhodes…go sit down somewhere and heal!

  9. rebecca farber
    February 25th, 2015 at 1:26 am

    Donaegan’s comments are incredibly astute. She locates structural inequalities and the systemic, historical oppression of women rather than the individual, ego-driven, and absolutely reprehensible behaviors of one man. Sexual harassment is bigger than Bikram.

  10. February 25th, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    I think you trying to make a positive spin on this negative situation.. But I want to know how many students will you be sending to training this year to be raped? ad how will you feel when it becomes someone you know?

  11. February 25th, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    No teacher, not even a studio owner, can fully address Bikram’s transgressions. She can however speak from her own experience, which is what Donegan does and very well. In her experience (and my own), the yoga is sound. The yoga is life changing. It’s impossible not to be grateful for it and to Bikram who has shared it. This doesn’t mean that there is not a huge swath of Bikram teachers who are appalled by his behaviors. Yes, some followers suggest that we all just separate the man from the yoga in a way that negates his responsibility for anything and everything. This subset of people think that we should look away. This isn’t what I got from Donegan. I suggest that we separate the man from the yoga in a different way. In other words: Follow the teachings and not the teacher! Please think for yourself. It shouldn’t take a scandal to figure this out. I will continue MY practice and MY instruction, which have zero to do with HIS behavior. (It also has nothing to do with whatever yoga celebrity has fowled up this time.) Regarding Bikram’s guilt, the courts will decide it.

  12. February 25th, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    This is ponderous; in America if someone is successful people, i.e. media, love to knock him or her down, especially if they are different. NCAA sports,one of the biggest business in all of sports, (March Madness, Football, etc.) have athletes with countless rape and abuse “convictions” each year. Guess what people still love to represent their teams with pride. Bikram Yoga is a great program that has positively change peoples lives, physically, mentally and for some spiritually. No matter what the founder ends up doing with his life the hard working students, teachers and especially small business owners should not be judged for make the world a better place. Step up and see if you can look at yourself for a real 90 minute class for three or four time in a week and see how it will change your life.

  13. February 27th, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Mia, you sound mad and slightly racist…

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