"It's a sexual playground," says Paul, a trainer from the Bay Area who has been certified in Bikram for seven years. "What do you expect? There are hundreds of gorgeous, extremely fit women everywhere. There are almost no guys. The practice gets everyone all worked up. It's the energy going up the spine." Paul is tall and well-muscled, in his early thirties, with curly black hair hanging to his shoulders. He's wearing only a tiger-striped Lycra Speedo (you can buy your own in the water tent) and flip-flops. Several women—hotel guests, not yoginis-in-training—inspect him hungrily as they pass by. "We're not supposed to have sex here," Paul acknowledges. "But you know how it is. A lot of us come back year after year. Seeds are planted." He winks.
Charlie, a teacher from Los Angeles, is middle-aged but has the body of a much younger man. He's here for just a few sessions (walk-ins are allowed at $20). He comes to practice with Choudhury and "honestly, to meet girls," he says. "I just walk up and say hi in the laundry room. A lot of them do their wash after evening practice. Or you can get lucky at the pool in the afternoon." But by far the best place for pickups, he says, is the posture clinic.
It's guys like Charlie and Paul, with their evident ability to offer more advanced forms of stimulation, who inspire worry among men whose wives or girlfriends have caught the yoga bug. "Often, one partner will outgrow the other," Syman acknowledges. "Yoga is about growth and change. If you don't grow and change together, well, you grow and change apart."
"My husband and I joke that Bikram Yoga is my other lover," says Angela Sinclair Moulin, who owns a studio in Kansas City, Missouri. "Our anniversary is the same day as I graduated, so he'll say to me, 'Who are you spending our anniversary with: me or Bikram?' "
At a Q&A that follows one of Choudhury's evening lectures, several women ask which postures are best for inducing orgasms. "For good sex, you want eagle pose!" he answers. This involves twining your arms around one another, doing the same with your legs, then lowering yourself into a seated position. "With this one you are fucking until you are 90! You have seven orgasms in a row!"
SCHOOL FOR THE GIFTED: Elite Bikramites pretzel into the crow, an advanced position.
That afternoon, Judes, a young Australian who works for Choudhury, shows me into his hotel suite. "I'm in love!" she exclaims blissfully. "I'm in love with Bikram! I'm in love with our life! I'm in love with what we are doing for people!"
The doors and windows are open, and the white curtains billow in the breeze. Barefoot, smiling women in their early twenties—blond California babes and dark Indian princesses—walk back and forth performing mysterious errands. Choudhury, in tight black jeans and a black T-shirt, his ponytail pulled through the back of a black baseball cap, is sitting on the couch talking to the owners of an Indian TV station while a dozen or so admirers look on. Up close, he appears even more muscular, vibrant, youthful. You half expect him to leap up and stand on one hand.
Seeing me, he pats the couch. I sit, and everyone in the room turns their attention to the two of us.
I ask whether Bikram Yoga promotes spiritual growth.
"You Westerners are like spiritual babies," Choudhury says. "You were born in the wrong country, with the wrong skin color, in the wrong culture. You can never be spiritual! It is not your fault. I'm sorry about that. If you can even get the body right, that much is good enough for you!"
So there isn't any religious aspect to Bikram Yoga?
"Religion is the biggest piece of shit created in all time!"
Does he ever feel embarrassed about the way he lives?
"All this money means nothing! They ask me, 'Bikram, now you are so rich. Why do you not live like the poor Indians?' I tell you why! Because I have been in that gutter! I have lived in the streets of Calcutta!"
When I get up to go, he takes my hand. "It is very simple," he says. "Go do good in the world, like me. Teach them their mind has a screw loose. It hates itself, it hates its body. But the lotus can grow in the garbage! Make them fall in love with themselves! That is the secret. I tell the same thing to my good friends, and they write Chicken Soup for the Soul. They sell, what, 10 million copies? You can trust me." (You'll have to—the authors wouldn't confirm any interaction with Choudhury.)
The next morning, back in the practice tent, Choudhury resumes his soliloquizing. "Woman is one-third mind, one-third body, one-third spirit," he shouts as the students go through their standing postures. "Man is one-third goat, one-third dog, one-third spirit!" It's easy to wonder if he actually means any of the things he says. Is Choudhury, as he himself sometimes says, nothing more than an entertainer?