Popular hot yoga system, Bikram yoga creator facing more sex assault claims

February 25, 2015 6:49 am

, the Indian creator of the popular hot yoga system
that bears his name, is facing a stream of defections from his Bikram
yoga brand, amid mounting allegations that he sexually assaulted several
of his young female acolytes.
For many of the yoga studios who follow his practice, that is a stretch too far: according to The New York Times,
some have already dropped the Bikram brand from their names in response
to the six lawsuits now pending against Mr Choudhury, the most recent
of which was filed this month.

Bikram Choudhury. Photo / Getty Images
Bikram Choudhury. Photo / Getty Images

The first of the lawsuits came in 2013, yet the alleged assaults stretch back a decade.

Mr Choudhury’s accusers say he maintains a clique of cultish associates who facilitate or turn a blind eye to the alleged abuse.
The 69-year-old denies the allegations and has never been criminally charged.
Bikram
yoga classes last 90 minutes in a humid room heated to 40C, and consist
of 26 yoga poses formalised and popularised by Mr Choudhury in the
1970s.
From his California headquarters, he runs an empire of
some 650 hot yoga studios worldwide, half of them in the US, and boasts
celebrity devotees including Madonna, David Beckham, Jennifer Aniston
and George Clooney.
Bikram yoga teachers must complete nine weeks
of intensive training to be certified, and the most committed can pay
US$12,500 (almost $17,000) to attend training courses taught by Mr
Choudhury himself.
Roaming the heated room in nothing more than a
pair of black Speedos, Mr Choudhury reportedly leads a punishing
training regime that begins at 7am and stretches late into the night.
The
lawsuits describe a charged atmosphere where the trainee teachers’
diet, wardrobe, speech and even “the expressions on their faces” were
supervised and constrained.
They were allegedly assured that
Bikram yoga could cure cancer and increase its adherents’ lifespans, and
Mr Choudhury was a spiritual leader on a par with Jesus or Buddha.
In
the most recent lawsuit, filed on February 13, Canadian former Bikram
yoga instructor Jill Lawler claimed she was one of many students invited
to massage Mr Choudhury during one of the mandatory late-night
Bollywood movie marathons that were part of the training course.
Ms Lawler said Mr Choudhury groped her after she had massaged him “for hours” during such a screening in 2010, when she was 18.
He later reportedly apologised for his behaviour and vowed to “make her a champion”.
Several weeks later, the lawsuit alleges, he raped her in his hotel room.
Ms
Lawler said she wanted to leave the course after the initial incident,
but having invested US$10,000 from her college fund to pay for Mr
Choudhury’s tuition, she felt obliged to continue.
She claimed the sexual assaults continued until 2013.
The
public accusations against Mr Choudhury began to emerge that year, when
another former student, Sarah Baughn, filed the first of the six
lawsuits.
She claimed the yoga guru had made sexual advances
during her training, and then assaulted her in a hotel room and later at
his home.
In a statement, Mr Choudhury’s lawyers strongly denied all the allegations against him.
“Their
claims are false and dishonour Bikram yoga and the and spiritual
benefits it has brought to the lives of millions of practitioners
throughout the world,” the statement said.
“After a thorough
investigation, the Los Angeles County district attorney declined to file
any charges against Mr Choudhury or the college for lack
of evidence.”

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