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Yoga Guru Hit with Multiple Lawsuits
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Bikram Choudhury has been accused of raping and assaulting several women.

Summary: Bikram Choudhury, the creator of the popular Bikram Yoga school, has been accused of raping and sexually assaulting several women.

Bikram Choudhury, the leader of the popular Bikram yoga movement, has been living the dream. He owns multiple fancy cars and a mansion in Beverly Hills. He has told many that his hot yoga classes are the answer to many ailments. “I totally cure you,” he has said. “Whatever the problem you have.” According to Wikipedia, Bikram Yoga is a 90-minute class that consists of 26 poses performed in a room kept at roughly 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity.


However, Choudhury is facing a big problem of his own, the New York Times reports. Six civil lawsuits have been filed against him by women who allege that they were raped or sexually assaulted by the instructor. The latest suit was filed on February 13 by a Canadian woman, Jill Lawler, who claims that Choudhury raped her during a teacher-training back in the spring of 2010.

Earlier this month, a Los Angeles judge removed hurdles to a lawsuit from another former student who accused Choudhury of raping her during a different teacher-training session in 2010.

Bikram Choudhury sued insurance companies last year for not defending him in some of these claims.

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The first lawsuit was filed two years ago. Following the first accusation, more women came forward and spoke publicly about how they were assaulted and harassed. The allegations have rocked the yoga community, especially where thousands of dollars have been spent to study with Choudhury. Bikram yoga studios have been opened across the globe.

Some students have pledged loyalty to Choudhury; others have rolled up their mats and left him behind.

Sarah Baughn was once an avid Bikram yogi and has participated in international yoga competitions. Her 2013 lawsuit against Choudhury was a shock to many Bikram followers. Baughn said, “This is their entire world. They don’t want to accept that this has happened.”

Choudhury has denied any wrongdoing and currently faces no criminal charges. A statement issued by his attorneys on behalf of Choudhury and his business said, “Mr. Choudhury did not sexually assault any of the plaintiffs” and accused the women of “unjustly” taking advantage of the legal system to profit.

The statement continued, “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. After a thorough investigation, the Los Angeles County district attorney declined to file any sexual assault charges against Mr. Choudhury or the college for lack of evidence.”

A trial date is scheduled for August in Baughn’s case. Her lawsuit alleges that Choudhury pursued her after she signed up for a teacher-training with him in 2005. Baughn was 20 years old at the time. The complaint states that Choudhury murmured sexual advances to her in yoga classes, and that he assaulted her and groped her both at his home and in a hotel room.

In 2012, a yoga instructor was arrested for a protest at the Indian Parliament building.

In a separate suit that involves a 2010 teacher-training, Choudhury’s attorneys argued that accuser failed to file the case in the appropriate statute of limitations. However, the judge said that the woman had suffered so much damage to her mental health and her life that the suit would be allowed to proceed. According to The Guardian, the woman said that Choudhury tried to “inflict guilt” upon her by saying if she told others about the incidents, the Bikram yoga community would be harmed.

Mary Shea Hagebols, an attorney for the group of plaintiffs, said, “The cases are moving very quickly. Any stays have been lifted, and we’re moving full steam ahead.”

Although several suits have emerged over the last couple of years, Bikram yoga studios have popped up all over the world. Choudhury is listed as the director of the Los Angeles headquarters, and he personally supervises the tough teacher-trainings that are $12,500 a pop. Choudhury’s attorneys noted, “There have been thousands of Bikram yoga teachers, studio owners and practitioners who have conveyed messages of support and encouragement.”

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Nevertheless, several studio owners have removed “Bikram” from the names of their practices and businesses. Tiffany Friedman of Southern California renamed her studio and began implementing her own yoga methods. She had participated in Bikram style yoga for several years, and purchased a studio in 2008. She attended a teacher-training in San Diego. She had hoped to learn more about the philosophy and physiology of yoga, but was disappointed with what was instead taught during the classes. “I was pretty much appalled. It was very cultish.”

According to Friedman, the daylong trainings included marathon yoga sessions in a very hot room, memorization of a yoga script that was mandatory for teachers to follow, and “rambling lectures” from Choudhury. The group was even forced to view Bollywood movies until 3:00 in the morning. Friedman and other trainees gave Choudhury massages while he sat in a large chair on stage in front of his students.

Friedman recalled, “I saw how people really wanted his favor and wanted him to shine a light on them and wanted to believe he was a guru and had all these powers. It was heartbreaking.”

Friedman and Choudhury locked horns when she offered a shorter version of his traditional hour and a half long class. Friedman quit Bikram altogether after reviewing the details in the lawsuits. “I stopped sending people to training. I changed the name.”

Other instructors still support the Bikram practice, even if they do not support the man himself.

The most recent lawsuit was filed by Lawler. She described that she felt as though “Bikram Yoga was her calling, and that her purpose was to share it with as many people as possible.” At the age of 18, she signed up for the spring 2010 teacher-training in Las Vegas.

An LSU law student was indicted in December for the rape of two women.

The suit alleges that Choudhury praised Lawler’s recitation of the teaching script, and that she massaged him for several hours during Bollywood movies. At some point, Choudhury allegedly began to grope Lawler. Lawler was too scared to speak up, and, since she had spent $10,000 on the training, she felt as though she had to complete the training. Choudhury supposedly pulled Lawler aside one night, said he was sorry for touching her, and said that he would “make her a champion.”

Just a few weeks later, Choudhury asked Lawler to go with him to his hotel room, and he sexually assaulted her.

Lawler was still a member of the Bikram community, even after multiple sexual assaults occurred, according to the complaint. The most recent incident allegedly occurred in February 2013. Lawler taught her final Bikram yoga class in July 2014 and then began working as a waitress.

Baughn also no longer teaches yoga or even practices. She never plans to go back to yoga. “I went through total hell. What happened to me was awful. I’ll probably always have bad dreams.”

Source: New York Times

Photo credit: details.com



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