Bikram Loses Sexual Harassment Suit


Bikram Choudhury’s losing legal streak continued last month in a Los Angeles court. The notorious yoga guru has been ordered to pay $924,500 in compensatory damages to his former personal attorney, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden. The day after the verdict the jury also awarded her a whopping $6.47 million for punitive damages.

The lawsuit was sparked in 2013 after Choudhury fired Jafa-Bodden when she started investigatingclaims by his yoga students of sexual harassment and rape. Her lawsuit claimed that she was also sexually harassed and suffered retaliation and discrimination by Choudhury.

At the end of the January trial the jurors deliberated for almost a day and then gave a unanimous verdict in favor of Jafa-Bodden. Choudhury was also found by the jury to act with malice, oppression, and fraud, which allowed Jafa-Bodden to seek punitive damages. The next day in court Jafa-Bodden’s lawyer urged jurors to “slap Choudhury with between one and nine times the amount of the compensatory damages.” They decided on a multiple of seven, which brought the total amount awarded just under $7.4 million.

During the trial Choudhury claimed to be “almost bankrupt” but then refused to disclose any requested financial statements or properly explain how he still affords to own a collection of over 30 luxury cars. But with his wife recently filing for divorce, a wrongful termination suit filed last year, as well as other sexual harassment lawsuits pending, his muti-million dollar yoga empire may indeed be feeling financially strained.

In January another sexual harassment lawsuit was settled out of court, and five other lawsuits against Choudhury are currently pending. All six women have alleged that he had sexually assaulted or harassed them. While Choudhury continues to claim his innocence and Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, this legal defeat is not a good omen that Choudhury’s legal woes will end soon or end well.


Vairagya—Four Steps to Attain Freedom in Yoga


Kama (desire) is a natural expression of being human and an essential ingredient for starting a yoga practice. Kama motivates us to get on our yoga mats and to do the work to advance in our practice. But our desires also create disharmony in the mind, which in turn produces unnecessary psychological suffering. To reduce (and eventually eliminate) kama, the ancient yogis created the practice of vairagya (detachment). While often associated with cave-dwelling renunciates, this conscious removal of emotional and mental reactions is beneficial and important for all levels of yogis to practice.

Vairagya is essential for cultivating equanimity, progressing in meditation, mastering the mind and moving forward along the path of yoga. The practice of vairagya takes enormous patience, inner strength and effort–so be prepared for this skill to develop slowly and gradually. Fortunately for us, vairagya has four stages that allow us to practice at the level best suited to our abilities, skills or goals.

In yatamana (endeavoring), the first stage of vairagya, we see how unnecessary suffering is created by the quality and content of our thoughts, and we learn how to let go or transform these harmful thoughts. Negative thinking and critical self-talk are common sources of mental suffering. These thoughts can easily be transformed through practicing acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, kindness and friendliness. Another common cause of suffering is having our thoughts stuck in a repetitive pattern due to an emotional trigger or event. Repetitive yoga practices, like mantra meditation,pranayama and sun salutations, can be the best remedy for getting your mind out of a rut.

In vyatireka (separation) we understand that our likes and dislikes are the root cause of unhealthy mental patterns and thoughts. The goal of this stage is to move towards a state of mental and emotional neutrality. Start practicing vyatireka by discerning between what thoughts and feelings are helpful or unhelpful, true or untrue. Then cultivate the awareness of how you are habitually attracted or repulsed by external objects (people, food, smells, etc.) and how the labels you attach to these objects (good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant) determines how you react to them. Lastly work on moving past deciding if something is good or bad, and see if you can simply be present with the sensations and energy that are conveying the information of the outside world to you.

Ekendriya (one organ of sense) is when the indriyas, the ten senses, are under the complete control of manas (the mental function aspect of the mind). This third stage of vairagya is significantly more challenging than the two previous stages and will require much more discipline and practice to achieve. Pratyahara, withdrawing our attention from our sense organs like a turtle pulling its limbs into its shell, is the primary technique to achieve this level of vairagya. Start by minimizing external distractions in your environment, and practice keeping your focus and attention inward. When you notice any thoughts or strong stimulations from your sense organs, take a few deep breaths and consciously bring your focus back into the core of your being.

In vasikara (subjection) the ten senses and the mind are restrained and the attachments of the mind are under complete control. This requires a deep awareness of how the mind becomes attracted to the process of attachment. In this last stage of vairagya the mind will no longer be attracted or repulsed by thoughts and mental images. You feel no attraction to the senses or objects, and you perceive both the sweet and bitter fruits of life as exactly the same. To attain this level of mental mastery a deep meditation practice and a strong yoga practice will be necessary.

Essentially vairagya is a deeper and more subtle practice of “not giving a damn.” One does not need to become a vairagya master to reap the benefits of this practice and experience an improvement in their mental well-being and overall happiness. Every time you loosen or break apart the chains of attraction and repulsion, you create more freedom, less suffering, and you move one step closer towards enlightenment.


How to Master Twisting Yoga Poses


I have a crush on twisting poses. One day in yoga class I followed the teacher’s guidance into a deep rotated triangle. “Isn’t that juicy,” she said. I had never thought to call a yoga pose juicy before, but she was right. I could practically taste the old, stale energy being squeezed out of me while new, fresh energy flooded my spine. Every time I do a twist-heavy yoga practice, I leave feeling more free and refreshed than ever.

But I didn’t always love twists. In fact, I used to dread them. I could never twist as far as I wanted and when I walked out of class, my lower back ached and I actually felt tighter rather than looser. Mastering twisting poses took me awhile, but from that process I have learned a thing or two about what it takes. Here are some great tips that will help you master those oh-so juicy twists.

Belly first, chest second, arms last

This is my mantra whenever I twist. Say you are seated and moving into Ardha Matsyendrasana A (Half Lord of the Fishes pose) on the right side. Start with the belly. Think about pulling the left side of your belly towards the right side. Once you have twisted your belly as far as possible, add your chest. Only once you have twisted your torso as far as you can should you move to the arms.

Your arms are an extension, not a lever

I cannot count the number of times I have seen a student place their hand on the ground behind their back and use it to crank themselves into a deeper twist. Your arms should be used to maintain your twist, not to force you into it. Whenever you enter a twist, rotate your torso as far as you can. That is your body’s natural limit. Then, and only then, should you place your hands to the floor. Think of your hands as a kick-stand to help hold you in place. Let your breath and spine determine the depth of your twist, not how far you can pull yourself with your arms.

There is such a thing as over-twisting

We seem to love to add twists to everything. What’s better than a forward fold? A forward fold and a twist! What’s better than a backbend? A backbend and a twist! While these movements can be a lot of fun, it is important to twist with caution. Your spine was built to move in many directions, but when you twist while bending you run the risk of compressing your spine and pinching a nerve or even causing a disc to slip. When moving your spine in multiple directions, take care to keep your spine long and free. Twist slowly. If you feel compression in your spine, back off.

Tips for seated twists

Seated twists are one of the most common twisting postures in yoga classes. They are more accessible than standing twists, yet they allow for a deeper twist than supine postures. If you follow the above tips you should be safe, but I have one final tip to get the most out of your seated twist: Focus on your pelvis. Every body is different, and as such, your alignment will depend on your body. For some of us, our pelvis can stay steady while our spine twists. For others, our pelvis may need to twist with our spine. This has nothing to do with flexibility and everything to do with the build of your bones. Experiment, listen to your body, and do what feels comfortable.

The benefits of twisting

Twists are purifying. Twists cut off circulation and compress the digestive organs. When you release the twist, you flood your body with fresh blood. This fresh blood helps your digestive organs function better and cleanses waste buildup from your cells. Twists also help us maintain healthy spine movement and reduce back pain. As if that weren’t enough, twists open our chest, shoulders, and back, which helps reduce stress and anxiety.


Yoga Practices To Open Your Heart


How many times in yoga class have you been told to open your heart, lift your heart, or draw your heart forward? This is a very common cue indicating students should drop their shoulders away from their ears, lift their chest, and bend through the thoracic spine. Including backbends in your practice encourages an even deeper physical opening of the chest and heart center. They also elongate the spine; release tension and stress from the neck, shoulders, and back; create space for the lungs and deeper breaths; and energize your practice, body, and mind. In addition to backbends, focusing on love and gratitude while practicing will open your emotional heart. Opening the heart teaches us to be humble, vulnerable, and lead with our hearts in both practice and life.

Explore the following yoga practices to open your heart, cultivate gratitude and bring more love into your life:

Set up your practice space

Use colors, stones, and essential oils related to the heart chakra in your yoga practice space and on your body. The heart chakra is located in the physical heart and governs love, kindness and compassion. It’s represented by the colors green and pink, the stones rose quartz and watermelon tourmaline, and essential oils of rose and jasmine.

Body Scan

Begin your yoga or meditation practice with a body scan. Sit in a comfortable seated position and check in with your posture. Is your chest collapsed or lifted? If your chest is collapsed, you are physically protecting your heart. Lift the chest and open the shoulders to bring the heart to the front. Then rest one or both hands on the heart. Leave them there for a few deep breaths. Note how this feels.

Breathe into the heart

Focus your breath work on your heart. Imagine you are breathing from the heart and into the heart. Feel the chest rise and fall with your breath. Again take note of any feelings that arise.


A mudra is a gesture or seal that channels our life force. Incorporate mudras into your practice to energize the heart. To practice Anjali mudra, bring the palms together at the heart and press the thumbs into the sternum. Use Anjali mudra at the beginning of practice while seated and in Mountain pose (Tadasana). As you grow comfortable with the mudra, use it with different poses throughout your practice.


Use a mantra during your practice. The mantra for the heart chakra is “yam” pronounced similar to “young” or in English, “I love.” If using “I love,” think “I” as you inhale and “love” as you exhale.

Set your intention

Intention sets the stage for practice. It’s a moment where we consciously express why we are practicing. To open your heart, offer your practice to someone you love or focus on feeling grateful.

Bring gratitude into your practice

Lasting, loving relationships are significantly influenced by expressions of gratitude. According to astudy published in 2014, gratitude is what holds two people together. The study reported that after expressions of gratitude, participants reported feeling more loving. Gratitude also increases feelings of happiness and well-being. Practice gratitude on the mat to get comfortable expressing thanks to your loved ones. Think of three things you are grateful for at the start or end of your yoga practice.


When practicing heart opening backbends, it is important to maintain balance by using counterposes. After any deep back-bending yoga pose, neutralize the spine with a simple twist and then counter with a forward folding pose. Backbends energize and physically open, expand, and lift the heart. Forward folds give your heart a chance to recharge and rest. Begin with gentle backbends such as Dog Tilt pose (Svanasana), Cobra pose (Bhujangasana), or Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana). For a deeper backbend try Camel pose (Ustrasana) or Upward Bow pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana). These backbends bring the heart above the head. This is a physical representation of following or leading with your heart. For more specific asana recommendations, try this heart-centered sequence.

Heart Meditation

Close your practice with a heart-centered meditation. This can be as simple as breathing into the heart and using the mantra “I love” as mentioned earlier. You may also incorporate a mudra here, such as Anjali mudra.

Take any or all of these recommendations and mix them into your daily practice. As you move from your mat and through your day, come back to your intention of love and gratitude.


5 Steps to Overcome Fear in Yoga


Fear has shown up, and has been defeated, many times over the decades that I’ve practiced yoga. Fear’s job is to keep us safe and out of danger, but sometimes our fear prevents us from advancing or going deeper in yoga. We can’t escape fear, nor can we predict when and how it will show up in our yoga practice—but we can use it as a tool for insight and transformation.

The biggest shift in my exploration of fear was seeing fear as something to be consciously examined and not something to run away from. By following these five steps, you too can mindfully befriend and conquer your fears on and off your yoga mat:

1. Identify your fears

The first step to tackle your fears is to identify your fears and write each of them down. Observe and document your thoughts about these fears and note your physical reactions to them. Continue to explore, contemplate and journal until you can unravel the roots of your fears and discover exactly what you are afraid of. Writing is known to be cathartic so this step may dissipate a good amount of your fear and anxiety by itself.

2. Evaluate

Once you have a list of the things that bring up fear, contemplate and evaluate each one. Ask yourself questions like: “Is this fear irrational? Is this a healthy fear that’s keeping me safe? Can this fear be overcome with my current abilities and skills? Do I want to overcome this fear, and if so, how much effort am I willing to put towards this?”

3. Create a plan and visualize success

Once you have identified and evaluated at least one fear you want to conquer, the next step is to create a step-by-step plan on how to skillfully and consciously make progress on overcoming the fear. Be creative on how to remove or minimize fearful elements, and brainstorm ways to build confidence. Break things down into small steps that are easy to accomplish and slowly move you towards accomplishing your goal.

Visualizing yourself doing the steps in your plan will prepare and train your body and mind for success. Mentally rehearsing imagery can keep you calm and focused. Use all of your five senses to practice the steps in your mind with as much detail as possible.

4. Strengthen and deepen your yoga practice

Throughout this process keep your yoga and meditation practice strong to maintain a calm, focused and centered mind. Committing to a daily or regular practice builds the inner strength and will power to follow through with your plan to face your fears. Now is also a great time to deepen your yoga practice by incorporating more esoteric techniques like mantra, mudra and pranayama.

Pay attention to your breath. Practicing Dirga Pranayama, Nadi Shodhana and other yogic breathing techniques will keep you calm, focused and centered.

5. Take action

The only way to conquer your fears is to face them and take action. If you have already practiced the above steps hopefully you have already seen your fears begin to diminish. You are now ready to practice the first step in your plan. Go for it! Remember to take things slow, honor your feelings, and conjure up your bravery, will power and confidence.

Our fears are incredibly powerful and often paralyzing. If you find yourself struggling with this five-step process, consider finding outside support. A good friend, yoga instructor or counselor are all great resources to draw upon for support and encouragement to conquer your fears.

The opposite of fear is freedom. If you want freedom from fear, the above steps will teach you how to embrace it as a powerful energy for transformation and change. Once you master fear on your yoga mat you can then take these same techniques to conquer fear, worry and anxiety in the world around you.


From Bakasana to Brunch: Pairing Yoga and Food


Picture this: You’re in Savasana after a sweaty, cleansing yoga practice. You sit up slowly, bring your hands to heart center, and chant the sound of “Om.” Seconds later, a new sound breaks the silence in the room. It’s the pop of a champagne cork, the clanking of forks, and the “oohs” and “aahs” of your fellow practitioners as they sit down to enjoy a meal.

Recently, studios have been hosting yoga practices paired with eating, drinking, and general post-asana cheer. This is one of the newest and hottest trends in yoga, and it’s on the rise. Many of these events veer into the decadent, offering all-you-can-eat (vegetarian) brunches and bottomless mimosas after an hour-long asana practice. Philadelphia studio Hydro + Pose hosts yoga classes followed by brunch, and two studios got together to put on the popular series “Namaste for Dinner” in 2015.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen an explosion of interest in both food and yoga culture, so it’s not surprising that the two have intersected. But some criticisms have been leveraged at this pairing. In yoga philosophy, several of the yamas and niyamas, yoga’s ethical code or guidelines, highlight the need for self-discipline and purity of body and mind. Depending on how one understands these guidelines, an ascetic lifestyle could be a natural outcome of studying this philosophy. For example, the niyama “tapas,” which translates to “self-discipline,” is understood as a purification of the body, an avoidance of excess, and a restriction of energy taken in and expended. Fasting is considered to be an expression of tapas. Other yamas and niyamas also encourage conservation of energy and avoidance of indulgence. Depending on how you interpret it, yoga philosophy might not mix well with an all-you-can-eat brunch (regardless if it’s vegetarian or not) after practice. But is there a meeting point?

The excessiveness of some of these events sails pretty far past the border of epic self-indulgence (for example, this one, reported on by Food and Wine, looks both delicious and slightly ridiculous). And at some level, eating good food is absolutely a form of self-pampering. But many teachers find that events like these do square with yoga philosophy. Yoga teacher and chef Emily Hartford (E-RYT 200) loves planning and executing these pairings, and argues that, in fact, eating well is part of taking your yoga off the mat.

“Yoga and meditation are meant to be practiced in all aspects of life, not just in the studio. The result of a consistent practice is a heightened awareness of the body and mind,” Hartford said.“When we become more conscious of our inner workings, we realize that what we eat directly affects how we feel, both physically and emotionally. From that place of mindfulness, we can choose what we want to consume based on the effects we desire. Indulgences such as alcohol and sweets, when enjoyed in moderation, can create feelings of joy, excitement and relaxation.”

Beyond this, eating mindfully can also increase our compassion for others. Hartford notes that, “Practicing mindful eating also inspires a sense of gratitude for all those responsible for it, from the earth, to the farmers and chefs. Extending the practice of loving-kindness and compassion inspires us to consume only foods that benefit our body, in healthy amounts, and using products that are grown or raised in a non-violent way.” Hartford also teaches couples’ classes paired with food and champagne for Valentine’s Day, which gives her students an opportunity to connect with their partners through practice and mindful eating.

Regardless of whether you lean more towards an ascetic approach or an indulgent one, the correlation between yoga practice and increased mindfulness is undeniable. If yoga teaches us anything, it is that extremes in general don’t serve physical or spiritual well-being. In the end, then, pairing yoga and eating seems like a win-win. By slowing down to focus on and appreciate our food (and where it comes from), we are more likely to savor it and less likely to overindulge. And that’s something to be thankful for.