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The Bikram sex scandal: What you need to know

(Photo: Boston.com)

(Photo: Boston.com)

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Yoga is no stranger to sex scandals, and just a year after the John Friend affair, another star yogi is being accused of abusing his guru status by systematically engaging in sexual harassment.

It’s the super-litigious Bikram Choudhury, who’s now being served with a lawsuit, and while he’s been sued before (at least once last year by another former student alleging sexual harassment), this appears to be the most serious set of allegations brought against the strange, Rolls Royce-loving guru t0-date.

We got a copy of the summons filed in Los Angeles on March 7 and here, break down what you need to know about the case.

WHO

Choudhury is being sued by West Coast yogi Sarah Baughn, a young Bikram star who won lots of competitive yoga championships and was super close to the guru for several years. Baughn dropped out of college in 2004, at age 20, to start her Bikram teacher training and dedicate her life to the practice.

She’s suing Bikram Choudhury, his wife Rajashree (who is the president of USA Yoga, the organization that governs competitive yoga), and Bikram’s Yoga College of India, whose staff, she says, repeatedly urged her to keep quiet about Choudhury’s behavior.

WHAT

Baughn is suing Choudhury on multiple counts, and this sums them up well:

“This is a sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment case where Plaintiff is being discriminated against as a woman, because she did not and will not submit to Defendant Bikram Choudhury’s repeated demands for sex, and because she successfully fought him off when he sexually assaulted her. As a result, Plaintiff was punished and threatened, including with implicit economic reprisals if she were to discuss or report the sexual assault, and was not permitted to reach the highest levels of her profession.”

To elaborate on some of the awful details, Baughn says Choudhury picked her as one of his favorites early on in her teacher training, saying he knew her from a past life and presenting her with a diamond-studded Rolex.

Later, he allegedly gave her inappropriate adjustments while “whispering sexual things to her,” urged her to have sex with him multiple times, and physically assaulted her during a sexual advance. After he found out she reported his behavior to others, she says he found ways to to punish her via alienation and pulling on her leg so hard during an adjustment that she tore her hamstring.

Professionally, Baughn says he continued to punish her by robbing her of the International Champion title in 2008, after she delivered a near-perfect performance and her competitor, who stumbled during her performance, won.

And the biggest scandal stems from the fact that Baughn says it wasn’t just her—that Choudhury’s behavior was widespread, accepted, and kept quiet in the Bikram community. During teacher training, she says that “some of the women were chosen to brush his hair and massage his body,” and that two other female yoga champs had slept with him before winning their titles.

Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, these allegations certainly have a lot of people—and yogis of all stripes—talking. How do you think this will affect the Bikram community? Tell us in the Comments, below?

13 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. March 28th, 2013 at 7:22 am

    This story has it all: sex, violence, a megalomaniacal and charasmatic leader, versus a young, pretty, naive blonde (I’m adding that part in) trapped in his very flexible clutches! What will she do? How will she escape? What will she be awarded in damages?

    Hold my seat while I go get some popcorn!

  2. March 28th, 2013 at 10:34 am

    It looks like it is true. I dont think she will come forward, if it did not happen. It is about time to teach him a lesson.

  3. March 29th, 2013 at 9:15 am

    every action has a reaction..their lifestyle has nothing to do with the yogic path..may they find the peace within, after all!

  4. March 29th, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    these allegations have been discussed openly for years…im glad someone is coming forward…although i believe in the benefits of Bikram yoga there is a cultishness to it and it is easy to see how those near the boss can be easily manipulated

  5. March 29th, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    how sad he’s such a a loser because his 26 pose sequence in heat IS brilliant…rather tragic!

  6. March 29th, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Must agree with Eva, why sould you stay in that type of environment? Competitive yoga says it all!

  7. April 2nd, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    It is a terrible thing when young seekers are taken advantage of by those they trust to guide them towards a more gracious way of living. It was very brave of her to stand up for not only herself, but for all the others who were silenced because of fear and intimidation. Let her story provide strength and awareness for all of us.

  8. April 6th, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Bikram is a pig. I give this young lady a lot of credit coming forward. I remember being at his one and only seminar in NYC several years that Bikram was giving and he was vulgar, and sexually explicit to a participant who asked him to demonstrate a posture so she could see how to it properly. His remark was, “F**k you, come to my room and I’ll show you how to do the posture.

  9. April 20th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    NO SURPRISE! and a long time coming. The posture sequence is great but the skit learning 10 K + training is a joke. Yes there are dedicated knowledgable instructors out there but they are few and far between. This guy has been a pig running loose for too long. He blasphemes the name of yoga and all it it is.
    Also he has huge nerve trying to make this yoga HIS. Its as old as the hills and he is de-spiritualizing it and making it a sport.Shame on you Bikram and shame to all who let him get away with it for so long.

  10. April 22nd, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    All this non-sense in the name of Yoga began by divorcing Yoga from its factual Hindu roots. Real Yoga is Hinduism; taught by Hindus and not for a fee–the rest, well, you do the math.

  11. May 25th, 2013 at 8:22 am

    Inncent till proven guilty. Everyone likes to jump to conclusions with the rich and famous. Let the court decide…. if he’s guilty so be it.
    I have a nuerological disorder and this Bikram style of practice in heat has benefited me greatly.
    On last comment we are all mixed bags with good and some less desirable traits.

  12. January 31st, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I took Bikram’s Beginner Training some years ago. I have never met a more egocentric person in my life. He expected to be treated like a deity. During yoga classes,when you would expect some purity of spirit, he made constant sexual references about women in the room. He even made demeaning sexual comments about his wife to the class. A vile man and I hope the compliant sues the pants off him.

  13. February 25th, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I am sad for Bikram, in whose very first class in Beverly Hills I was lucky enough to be. He was a great teacher, with a tragic penchant for name-dropping, but then it was Hollywood. “Shirley MacLaine called me last night at midnight,’ he said in the middle of a posture. And like that. Not too spiritual.
    Also in the class were Vidal Sassoon and his then wife Beverly, who was later to write a yoga book, which, according to the rumors(I never checked the files) she failed to attribute many of the postures to Bikram, so I believe he sued. His ego, like his positions, was a bit of a stretch. But he seemed to mean no harm, and it is a shame, The yoga is great,

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