Rajashree Choudhury may not have the same name recognition as her husband, Bikram Choudhury, but she’s an integral part of the Bikram yoga community. In fact, Rajashree regularly travels the globe leading Bikram yoga teacher trainings and as the founder of the USA Yoga Federation, is on a mission to make competitive yoga more mainstream in America and ultimately an Olympic sport.
If you’re one of the yogis who adamantly opposes yoga as a sport, you might be interested to know that yoga competitions have been taking place in India for years. In fact, Rajashree won her first title at the age of 9. We had the opportunity to interview her about her practice, competitive yoga and what she’d say to people who have “bad” Bikram yoga experiences.
Do you practice yoga everyday?
I try to with my own time. My practice is very personal.
Do you practice any other styles of yoga besides Bikram?
I grew up in India learning yoga from a lot of different teachers. I often do my own personal practice.
So, you don’t always practice in the heat?
As I have studied many different styles of yoga I can also practice without the heat.
What inspires you to get on the mat?
To get energy, to get my life going, and to clear my thoughts.
People feel very strongly about Bikram yoga–they either love it or they don’t–why do you think this is?
Bikram yoga is a very challenging practice that requires physical and mental strength. A lot of the time we want to achieve something in life but we want it to be easy. Bikram yoga exposes your weaknesses, whether they be in the mind or the body, but if we overcome these challenges, then we fall in love with the practice.
You started doing yoga and entering yoga competitions at a very young age. Why do you think some yogis in this country are opposed to the US Yoga Federation and yoga as a sport?
In India yoga went through an evolution in the popular culture from a solely spiritual practice to a therapeutic practice and finally to a practice to be demonstrated or a sport. I think yoga first entered Western culture as a spiritual practice as well, then the therapeutic benefits became known. The next step in this evolution–of yoga being recognized as a sport, is already taking place.
Do you prefer teaching classes or leading teacher trainings? Why?
Both! I love to teach, both because it is so inspiring, and because it is in service to the good of humanity.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to try Bikram yoga or tried it and had a bad experience?
Don’t show up with expectations; just show up. I don’t believe in “bad” experiences; I believe in challenging experiences that encourage you to grow in some sense, maybe it is that you need to develop more physical strength, maybe you need more mindfulness and concentration. That is your journey.