The U.S. Yoga Federation Founder + President and First Lady of Bikram Yoga
Interveiw Part II: Zoë Kors
Zoë Kors: What inspires you?
Rajashree Choudhury: Women. I was raised by my grandmother. She had a very difficult time, raised all her kids, my father and everybody. Listening to those stories and finding her so strong, poised. Anybody who came close to her was made to feel blessed. And at the same time, it didn’t matter how strong a person was, in front of her, their head would go down. She carried through her life raising everybody. That is my model.
ZK: Tell me about getting involved in yoga competition. You’re a champion.
RC: Yes, I am a champion. My mom made sure that I did yoga every day. She dragged me because that was something she was doing for herself. She would have a great time with her friends. All the mothers would sit together and the kids all did yoga.
ZK: Like dance moms.
RC: Yeah, exactly. It was a social time for them. But it helped build me. Through competition I loved yoga. I won my first
Bishnu Ghosh Cup in 1982. Which was federation-based. I won several before that, but it was a private open, where men and women both were challenged together and one winner.
ZK: Men and women against each other? And you won.
RC: I won. At the time, Bikram was giving the biggest trophy, he would bring the winner to America. So I came to Los Angeles.
Bikram and I, we come from the same lineage. But you know, there’s a generation gap.
My teacher and Bikram are contemporaries, they are friends. One stayed back to promote yoga in India and one came here to the Western world. That’s Bikram, because he is the best salesman, you know that. [smiles]
Bikram wasn’t big in India at that time. Here he was called, “Guru of the Stars.” I had seen his book and it was a beautiful practice but I didn’t like it. I was used to a more personal practice. So I was like, only 26 poses, every day, very routine. It didn’t appeal to me. And I didn’t like the heat at all, because I come from hot country. So it was like, Oh my god! But people were talking about it and feeling great benefit, so I finally gave it a try. And then I really started to see the possibilities of growing the school. I started to talk to him about teacher training. It took me 10 years to convince him. Men are always right, right? I said, well, try it, try it, try it. We did the first five teachers, unofficially, and it worked. Then we condensed the typical American 3 year training into a 3 month intensive. And that’s how we got to this point.
ZK: How do you handle criticism?
RC: I listen to my own heart, stand for only that. That’s it. Doesn’t matter. Whoever, however close to me you may be. Nobody can change my emotions. Even if I am sad it’s my own problem, not somebody else’s.
ZK: You take responsibility for yourself.
RC: It’s much better that way. You don’t accuse people. You aren’t a victim of anything. Becoming a victim is your choice. Cry, for what?
ZK: We tend to take things personally…
RC: Things just happen, it will pass, it’s your learning process. You know, in my dialogue when I teach classes, I use “please.”
ZK: [gasps] Bikram classes?!
RC: Yes, Bikram. You know, NOBODY says “please”. Because the Bikram dialogue is a very solid drilling method. And someone says, why do you even say it? I say, That’s the way I am. I love to say “please” and you have to accept me that way. If you don’t, it’s your problem.
ZK: [laughs] Has your husband taken your class?!
RC: My husband wouldn’t like to take my class. Anytime I am up there on the stage, I think he thinks I’m the most boring teacher! No, I don’t let him. But you know, he supports me.
ZK: He must support you. You are very empowered in this organization.
RC: Bikram put challenge in front of me, and to overcome that challenge, that’s my education from him. And I love that. I have no problem with that. People can think whatever they think, but that’s my strength to go forward.
ZK: And you answer to your own heart.
RC: Exactly, exactly. And I don’t expect it will be easy. If it is easy, something’s wrong. But I expect it not to stop me.
ZK: That’s beautiful, Rajashree.
RC: Thank you, Zoë
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