Bikram Choudhury, the 69-year-old guru and promoter of “hot yoga” who claims “I can totally cure you, whatever the problem you have,” probably has years of legal trouble ahead of him, considering that he is now being slapped with civil suits by half a dozen former clients.
He has a stable of luxury cars and a Beverly Hills mansion. During trainings for hopeful yoga teachers, he paces a stage in a black Speedo and holds forth on life, sex and the transformative power of his brand of hot yoga. … But a day of legal reckoning is drawing closer for the guru. … He is facing six civil lawsuits from women accusing him of rape or assault. The most recent was filed on Feb. 13 by a Canadian yogi, Jill Lawler, who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during a teacher-training in the spring of 2010.
This month, a Los Angeles judge cleared away several challenges to a lawsuit from a former student who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during another 2010 teacher-training.
Former student Sarah Baughn says Choudhury was her hero until he began propositioning her relentlessly. She accuses him of pressing his body against hers while adjusting her pose in classes, whispering sexual innuendos into her ear, ordering her to kiss him in front of other trainees, and assaulting her in a hotel room in Mexico.
Baughn says she resisted his advances. He found others easier to enthrall: Choudhury makes fawning students brush his hair, give him massages, and invites them to have sex with him, according to Baughn.
Former Choudhury acolyte Benjamin Lorr provides additional insights into the yogi’s
cult ardent following. Lorr wrote a book about extreme yoga and the physical and spiritual pains its followers endure on the path to enlightenment. In an article in the Daily Beast, he calls Choudhury “a dark prince of America yoga” who approaches his students “in Speedo and Rolex, barking orders at his following of millions (19 studios in New York City alone) as they struggle to contort to his demands.” Lorr says the master “charges upward of $11,000 to attend his trainings. He has 40 Rolls Royces in his garage.”
In Choudhury’s case, the alleged sexual harassment seems to go hand in hand with verbal abuse.
“He once shouted at me, ‘Hey you! Do you have boobs or do you have a dick? I can’t see it!‘” recalls Naveed Abidi, the owner of a Chicago-based Bikram yoga studio who studied under Choudhury five years ago. He’s still a fan, and an avid defender of the man, because the insults are made with good intentions: “The reason he’s saying it is he just wants to have people get over their egos.”
The New York Times has the latest:
“The cases are moving very quickly,” said Mary Shea Hagebols, a lawyer for the six women suing Mr. Choudhury. “Any stays have been lifted, and we’re moving full steam ahead.”
Even as the lawsuits against Mr. Choudhury multiplied over the past two years, new Bikram-branded studios continued to open, joining a list of hundreds of independently operated studios in places like Buenos Aires and Shanghai. Mr. Choudhury is listed as the director of his Los Angeles headquarters, and he personally oversees the grueling, weekslong teacher-trainings that cost $12,500 per pupil. …
In moment-by-moment detail, the civil suits against Mr. Choudhury accuse him of harassing, targeting and assaulting young women who had once revered him. The most recent complaint, filed by Ms. Lawler, described how she felt that “Bikram Yoga was her calling, and that her purpose was to share it with as many people as possible.” At 18, she signed up for a spring 2010 teacher-training in Las Vegas. …According to the complaint, Mr. Choudhury praised Ms. Lawler’s recitation of the teaching script that accompanied the yoga postures. She massaged him for hours during Bollywood viewings, the complaint said, and at one point, he began groping her.
The guru says it’s all a pack of lies.
A statement issued by lawyers for Mr. Choudhury and his yoga college, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuits, said that “Mr. Choudhury did not sexually assault any of the plaintiffs” and that the women [are] “unjustly” exploiting the legal system for financial gain.