ruby’s tuesday | breaking from Bikram
posted: December 2, 2013
When she opened her first Bikram yoga studio in London in 1999, Michelle Pernetta was the first person to bring the practice to the British capital. She went on to open four studios in the city.
But in a bold and controversial move and amidst the flurry of negative press currently surrounding Bikram Choudhury, last month saw her break away from the tradition to unveil her own brand of hot yoga, Fierce Grace.
We asked her about the reasons behind her decision, the mechanics of her new system and how she broke the news to Bikram himself.
Why did you decide to rebrand your studios Fierce Grace?
“I’ve taught the Bikram system for a very long time and I’m not criticizing it at all. It’s gotten masses of people into yoga and is a very safe class, but there are a few things missing and as a teacher you are limited. That’s the problem with the model, you hit this glass ceiling and there’s nothing you can do. For 20 years I’ve also watched my students, and seen the poses they do after class, which they feel they need but are not getting. It’s not just because I want to open under a different name and not pay the Bikram franchise, which a lot of people are doing. I’ve evolved it because a lot of us still have tight hips, flabby arms, and a weak upper body.”
How did you come up with the name?
“In ancient spiritual traditions ‘grace’ refers to the blessings of the divine, while ‘fierce’ relates to our earthly disciplines. It’s another way of saying ‘yin and yang,’ and this is also how I teach. It’s not about only flexibility, or only strength, it’s about balance. Unless you have this, you get aberrated as a human being, physically and mentally.”
How is your new system different from Bikram?
“I’ve designed five new classes for the hot room. I’ve added about 15 poses to the traditional series although the class is the same length, and there’s also an advanced class. Then there’s one I’ve called Deeper & Slower, for people who are injured or feeling burned out, one that’s more flowing and free and a 50-minute class more suited to busy city schedules.”
Will Fierce Grace have all the same health benefits as Bikram?
“I came to Bikram 23 years ago having been told I’d need surgery to fix my knees, which were ruined from my marshal arts practice. Even though a recent MRI showed they are still damaged, my Bikram practice means I’ve never had to have surgery. There are certain core poses in yoga which, if done repeatedly and in the same way, will create a solid foundation to prevent injury in the body, and these poses are at the core of all my new classes too.”
How much of this move is about finding more freedom as a yoga professional?
“Any system that’s made rigid stops developing and growing. It happened with Iyengar, and one problem within the Bikram community is that when you’ve got such an amazing figurehead, there is no space for any of the other senior teachers to say, ‘You should put a hip opener in there.’ You’d be thrown out for saying it, which happens a lot! But if yoga is about breaking through your boundaries, your mental patterns and your emotional limitations, I don’t believe that sticking to such a rigid system is always healthy.”
How did you tell Bikram himself, and what has his reaction been?
“It’s very difficult to leave someone who’s really helped you, and who I consider my friend. I sent a long email explaining the whole situation in a very loving way—that I wasn’t trying to steal his system, and that it was simply time for me to move on.”
Have the recent sex allegations against him played any part in your decision?
“I made this decision a long time before any of that came to light, but it has made it a little easier as a business owner because none of us know what the affect on the brand name will be over the years to come.”
Running four busy studios, how did you find time to come up with your new system?
“Between running the studios, teaching and keeping my own practice up there is no such thing as spare time. So how this happened? It happened instead of vacations, instead of sleep, every single Saturday, every single Monday for the past three years. And actually, if I wasn’t able to keep practising myself, and using that time on the mat to de-stress during this transition period, I would probably be in hospital by now!”
Whether it’s interviewing Lady Gaga, unveiling the latest trends in fashion, or getting under the skin of our most neurotic social trends, Ruby Warrington is at the forefront of it all. She’s a British lifestyle writer and the celebrated creator of the blog The Numinous, but best of all is that Ruby is also a feature writer for the lululemon blog.