'Hot' Yoga Burns Bright

Sweaty Moves Bring Yoga Guru Students, Copyright Protection

America's obsession with good health and exercise is leading to a boom in yoga. One man at the forefront of the movement is Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yogi with an all-American approach.

Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports Choudhury's turning up the heat with his "torture chamber" yoga method. Dressed in nothing but a Rolex and a Speedo, the 59-year-old yoga guru pushes his students to contort 'til it hurts in a room heated to well over 100 degrees.

"I don't sell cheesecake, you know that?" asks Choudhury. "So you come there to suffer. If you don't suffer, you don't get anything. Nothing easy in life."

But isn't yoga supposed to be relaxing and meditative – not torture? Choudhury says no: "That's the biggest problem in America. That's the way yoga [was] introduced to America. Yoga [in America] means sit and close your eyes and you will look at the lamp and look at the crystal and meditate."

In Bikram yoga, meditation starts on the outside, in pushing the body to its extreme.

Choudhury explains, "You use the body as a medium to bring the mind back to the brain. Perfect married between body and mind. Then, you can knock the door to the spirit."

His approach works, he says, because of the 105-degree heat, which loosens the body and allows the muscles and tendons to go farther and stretch even more.

The heat may make the body more limber, but it does nothing to stop a first-time Bikram student's potential pain. In fact, one doctor who spoke to 60 Minutes Wednesday said that people taking Bikram yoga classes should be warned, given instructions on hydration and on modifying poses to avoid pushing the body too hard.

Choudhury mocks the suggestion. "Tell the doctor [that] I say to start chicken farm." He adds, "What do you think I'm doing all this life? All these years?"

Judging by Choudhury's appearance, his "hot" yoga looks to be a great path to preserving and improving health. In fact, the yogi believes medical science will prove Bikram yoga is good for you. He's collaborating in two separate clinical trials, with doctors from the University of Southern California and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in New York. They're studying Bikram's effect on bone density and the overall benefits of yoga.

In Hollywood, people have been swearing by Bikram yoga for decades. Choudhury lists Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Candice Bergen and Brooke Shields among his famous followers.

It's a list that includes none other than the 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon. Nixon's the key player in the story of how the Indian guru came to America in the first place. It's a tale that, true or not, has become part of Choudhury's own personal folklore.

It was 1972, and Nixon, who was visiting the South Pacific, was suffering from phlebitis. Choudhury says he was summoned, and gave the president his special hot treatment.

Afterward, Choudhury says, "He got up, shave, with the dress, tie, suit, went for meeting. And he asked me first thing, 'Sir, who are you? Are you an Indian black magician?'"

Choudhury explained that he was a yogi, and says Nixon was so happy with the treatment, he gave him an open invitation to come and live in the United States.

  • Tricia McDermott

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