Bikram Yoga guru accused of Sexual Harassment

The founder of Bikram Yoga has been accused of rape, harassment, racism, misogyny and homophobia. Former students and employees have sued Bikram Choudhury in a series of lawsuits.

Bikram Yoga

"There's a great desire to keep Bikram's conduct in the dark."

Bikram Choudhury, founder of the acclaimed Bikram Yoga regime is in a lot of hot water – hotter than his yoga classes! The renowned celebrity fitness guru has been hit with a series of career-threatening lawsuits filled with allegations of racial discrimination and sexual abuse.

The latest lawsuit, filed in July 2013 in Los Angeles, was from former employee, Minakshi Jaffa-Bodden, who worked as a legal adviser for the guru.

Bodden admitted that working for Choudhury was like being part of a ‘cult’. She accused him of tyrannous behaviour and being a misogynist.

Bikram Yoga FounderIn her lawsuit, she added that the working atmosphere of Choudhury’s organisation was rife with racist and homophobic abuse. Choudhury was also prone to carry out violent acts and sexual harassment towards both his employees and students.

Choudhury has been accused of referring to women in is company as ‘bitches’. He also racially discriminated against African Americans, and treated them differently to his other students, saying: “[They] just don’t get my yoga.”

One of his more serious claims was toward the gay community where he is reported to have said: “AIDS is caused by gays, it is the truth, but these f*****g a*****e guys love me, they love Bikram.”

Jaffa-Bodden, who is being represented by Carla Minnard, a civil rights attorney, is one of the few employees who has decided to take a stance against Choudhury’s barbaric actions.

Minnard said: “There’s a great desire to keep Bikram’s conduct in the dark. It shows an inability by anyone to restrain an individual who is a dangerous person.”

Sarah BaughnThis is not the first lawsuit of sexual assault and harassment to have graced Choudhury’s doorstep. In March 2013, former employee and Bikram yoga instructor, Sarah Baughn, sued Choudhury of sexual harassment and ruining her career.

Baughn claims that Choudhury gave her special attention and said to her: “My wife is such a bitch, you have no idea. She is terrible to me. She is so mean. You have to save me. I know you from a past life. We have a connection. It is amazing. Should we make this a relationship?”

He then reportedly tried to have sex with Baughn in 2005 but she refused. She then added that Choudhury went on to destroy her career in 2008 when he rigged a yoga competition, favouring another woman he was intimate with over herself.

Baughn added that Choudhury had a circle of ‘devoted’ students who would brush his hair and massage his body. One journalist already reported such instances of intimacy in 2011, writing:

“Only the best, bravest, and most beautiful practice at the feet of the guru, who sits cross-legged on a giant inflatable leather throne against the back wall. He’s in a black Speedo, bare-chested, his hair tied in a topknot. His triceps stand out like pistons. Sometimes a woman will brush his hair or wash and massage his feet.

“There are the stories about him having sex with his students. When I ask him about this, he doesn’t deny it – he claims they blackmail him: ‘Only when they give me no choice! If they say to me, ‘Boss, you must fuck me or I will kill myself,’ then I do it! Think if I don’t! The karma!'”

Bikram Yoga FounderIn May 2013, another woman accused Choudhury of raping her in 2011. In her complaint, she said that Choudhury propositioned her saying:

“I need to spiritually enlighten you. In order to do that, we need to become one.” He later raped her in his hotel room. The woman added that she received no support from the other employees in the centre, being told: “We all know how Bikram is, that’s just part of it.”

Choudhury has already dismissed the accusations against him as completely false. Following the claims, former legal consultant Jaffa-Bodden was advised by the company to ‘not look into it any further’.

Her attorney, Minnard said that her client was compelled to resign in March 2013 after she was threatened by the organisation: “She did try to stop what she felt was illegal, immoral conduct. They threatened to have her and her eight-year-old daughter deported.”

Bikram, who was born in Calcutta in 1946 began learning Hatha Yoga postures at the age of 3 or 4. He then studied the art under Bishnu Ghosh at the age of five where he would practice yoga for 4 to 6 hours each day. In his teenage years, Bikram won the All-India National Yoga Competition for three years running.

He finally came Stateside in the 1970’s where he founded Bikram’s Yoga College of India. He is reportedly estimated to be worth in the region of £4.6 million. Choudhury is best known for training America’s celebrity elite in the art of Yoga:

“Lady Gaga listens to me. Her mantra is only one word—Bikram—because Bikram makes her what she is today. It works. I kind of run this city. They depend on me.”

Lady Gaga doing Bikram YogaHis Hot Yoga involves vigorous workouts within 40 degrees Celsius to mimic the Indian climate. His ‘Bikram Yoga’ involves 26 handcrafted postures that are to promote a healthy mind, body and soul.

But while Bikram’s practice is steeped in spiritual meditation and serenity, his reputation as a hot-tempered employer and teacher is pretty visible.

Emmy Cleaves, an employee of Choudhury’s is a senior Bikram teacher. Speaking of Choudhury, she said: “Sometimes he uses a little profanity. He never did that in the early years. He learned a lot of that from the show-biz people. He thought that was America.”

She added that one of Choudhury’s common sayings included: “In America, they say, you can take a horse to the pond, but you can’t make him drink. My way is different. I only take the horse to the pond to make him drink. If he doesn’t, I’ll cut his head off.”

While Choudhury has refused all allegations of rape and sexual assault from the lawsuits made against him earlier this year, he has yet to respond to his former legal adviser. Jaffa-Bodden is hopeful that she will expose her former employer for his indecent actions and bring the necessary justice for his victims.

Aisha is an editor and a creative writer. Her passions include music, theatre, art and reading. Her motto is “Life is too short, so eat dessert first!”

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