Founder of Bikram Yoga
Bikram Choudhury is the founder of Bikram yoga, the sweltering practice he’s turned into an empire of hundreds of branded studios around the world. But, the empire may finally be crumbling.
Choudhury is facing six civil lawsuits from women alleging that he sexually harassed or assaulted them. Most of them were students of his who had paid him thousands of dollars for rigorous yoga-teacher trainings and were dependent on him for their certification as instructors. Even his own lawyer filed a suit against him for sexual harassment, among other things, in 2013.
The first suit was filed in March 2013 by Sarah Baughn, a former student, who said he sexually assaulted her after she tried for months to deflect unwanted advances from him. The latest suit was filed on February 13 by a Canadian yogi named Jill Lawler. All the women’s stories are similarly horrifying and include allegations of rape, sexual harassment, and sexual discrimination.
The women allege that Choudhury, who practices yoga in a Speedo and teaches trainings that cost $12,500 a pop, used his position of power and influence — and the nature of Bikram yoga itself — to victimize women.
“Vulnerability and devotion are big parts of the practice,” Benjamin Lorr, the author of the memoir Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga, explained to The New York Times in 2013. “Bikram creates this mentality that the outside is phony. There is no path but this path, and everything that happens in this path is just a part of your yoga, that you have to learn to be strong and get past it.”
Some of the women say Choudhury promised them fame and fortune. He told one he’d “make her a champion,” according to a recent legal filing. Choudhury has denied the allegations.
Though the cases filed against Choudhury haven’t been resolved (Baughn has a trial date scheduled for August), the accusations facing him are dividing the Bikram community. Some of his studios have rebranded or are considering it, The Times reports.
In a statement, Choudhury’s lawyers said the women’s claims “dishonor” the popular yoga practice — which is a pretty messed up way to dismiss allegations of sexual assault.
“Their claims are false and dishonor Bikram yoga, and the health and spiritual benefits it has brought to the lives of millions of practitioners throughout the world,” the statement reads. “After a thorough investigation [of the most recent allegations], the Los Angeles County district attorney declined to file any sexual assault charges against Mr. Choudhury or the college for lack of evidence.”