By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Sitting behind the wheel of his white Bentley in a white leather baseball cap, white slacks and a sweater trimmed with racing stripes, the fully dressed Bikram Choudhury seems smaller than he does in the tiny black panty he wears on the “throne” from which he teaches his particular brand of yoga. In a room heated to 105 degrees, a Madonna mike strapped to his head, Bikram commands a room of 200 people through the 26 postures he developed to systematically work the body, “from bones to skin, from hair to toes.” He is the imperious Master of Hot Yoga, revered by many, misunderstood by more, and despised by some for his competitive approach to what Westerners regard as a spiritual practice. But behind the wheel of this massive car, his long hair flowing past his shoulders, yoga’s bad boy seems more like a boisterous little kid out for a joy ride in his daddy’s car.
We hang a left on Venice, and Bikram cranks the music. A deafening techno-pop thud fills the air. “I love it!” he shouts over the music. “Robert Miles, ‘Children.’ The best. Absolutely number one. No question.” He listens rapturously for a few more beats, then turns back to one of his favorite subjects: cars.
“When I was a baby,” Bikram attests, “I used to stand on street corner in front of our home yelling ‘Ford Fairfax! Hillman Hunter! Hudson! Plymouth! DeSoto! Packard!’” He lays on the gas and the Bentley surges forward, our bodies pressed back into impossibly soft leather. We are doing 70 on Venice Boulevard in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.
“Every human being in this world is interested in certain things,” Bikram reflects as he waits for the light to change. “Everybody has a hobby. Some people like art; I know nothing about it. Some people like books, some people like fishing, some people like music. I like to look at cars.”
Bikram pulls into one of the many unremarkable, frayed little garages that dot La Brea Avenue and glides the Bentley to a stop. We have arrived at the locus of his lifelong hobby, Bikram’s Garage, where his cars line up in sundry states of disrepair; some of them have been restored from rusted hulks. He prefers cars with a celebrity pedigree: Clark Gable’s Roadster, the Beatles’ Moreno sports car. “My specialty is collecting cars that were made for special people for special reasons.” He explains further: “From my childhood I have one kind of personality. Whatever I do, I am the only one. Whatever I should have, that’s the only one in the world. My guru says, ‘Bikram second to none.’”
He has called ahead and instructed one of his mechanics to uncover the cars. Automobiles of varying vintages sit fender to fender, like students in his studio, waiting for his attention. He leads me over to the shell of a 1956 Rolls that has been gutted and stripped of paint. “You know Gypsy Rose Lee? Famous stripper? Number one? This is her car.” He caresses the voluptuous swell of metal surrounding a headlight. “Just feel it here. It is all aluminum. No steel. See inside?” He points to a puckered bumpy corner. “Somebody cheated. They put Bondo inside. But when I finish, no more Bondo.”
In another part of the garage, a shiny Rolls-Royce stretches out like a big cat in the sun. “This Rolls is only one in the world. I created this.” It is a 1960 Cloude 9. He has cut the top off and made it into the world’s only four-door convertible.
“This is the electric top. This goes shhhup! This my regular car. When I drive it,” Bikram boasts, “people get nuts in the road.”
When Bikram Choudhury was 5 years old, his family moved to Calcutta, where they lived next door to Gosh’s College of Physical Education. One day little Bikram wandered over. “There were kids there, working out with weights and doing yoga. I took my shirt off and started doing it. This man said, ‘Hey, come here. Show me.’” The man was Gosh. “So I started showing him yoga. He said, ‘Come every day. I teach you yoga.’ So I did it for 20 years.” Bishnu Gosh was the brother of Paramahamsa Yogananda, who founded the Self-Realization Fellowship and wrote Autobiography of a Yogi. Gosh became Bikram’s guru.
Bikram thrived under Gosh’s tutelage, becoming the youngest person ever to win the National India Yoga Competition, at the tender age of 11, and going on to win the following two years. At 14 he started weightlifting and also competed successfully in that field until age 17, when a spotter dropped an 80-pound weight on his knee, crushing it. “You can fuck with the gods,” Bikram says, “but don’t fuck with the knees.”
Effectively a cripple, Bikram was told by Western-trained doctors that he would never walk again. Gosh brought him back to the college. Inside of eight months, Gosh had Bikram performing the lotus, yoga’s trademark cross-legged sitting position, which, done wrong, could put extreme strain on the knees. “That’s why I become a yoga teacher,” Bikram says now. “To fix the knees. From the knee I fix body, then the mind, then the life.”
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city