Bikram yoga, a popular brand of super-hot yoga run by a Speedo-sporting, hip-thrusting alleged sex guru, is experiencing a crisis of faith as multiple sexual assault lawsuits move forward against its figurehead and namesake, Bikram Choudhury. The New York Times reports hot yoga studios are dropping their Bikram branding due to the six civil suits now pending against him, the most recent of which was filed just a week ago.
Although Choudhury has never been criminally charged with sexual assault, he's faced public accusations since 2013. Multiple lawsuits allege he has "a propensity to sexually assault young women," and is surrounded by an inner circle that both knows about and enables the abuse. Two of the women suing him allege he raped them at teacher training sessions, one as far back as 2005.
About those training sessions: Teacher candidates who sign up for the nine-week classes are allegedly told what they can eat, how to speak, what facial expressions they can make, and what to wear—which is not much. One yoga teacher who went through Choudhury's very expensive course described it to the Times as "cultish" experience with students clamoring for the guru's attention. She said it consisted of:
marathon yoga practice in a roasting room, rote memorization of a yoga script to which teachers had to adhere, what she described as rambling lectures led by Mr. Choudhury and mandatory viewings of Bollywood movies until 3 a.m. She and other teacher trainees frequently massaged Mr. Choudhury as he sat in an oversize chair on stage before rows of pupils.
She's since removed "Bikram" from her studio name, and the Times suggests she's not alone: Many studios are distancing themselves from the charges against the face of Bikram, if not from his technique of performing 26 poses in a 100-degree room.
Sarah Baughn, the first accuser to come forward with allegations against Choudhury, finally has a trial date scheduled for August. She says Choudhury made advances on her during classes, then assaulted her both in a hotel room during a training session and at his home.
The most recent former student to file suit against Choudhury, Jill Lawler, says he groped her at a 2010 training after she massaged him "for hours" during one of those Bollywood movie marathons.
She says he apologized afterward, promising to "make her a champion," and then raped her in his hotel room weeks later. That was the first of many alleged sexual assaults, which her suit asserts continued through 2013.
Lawler wanted to leave after that first groping incident, but felt committed to the training because she'd invested $10,000 from her college fund to pay the $12,500 tuition.
Both of the women mentioned in the Times story have since quit teaching yoga, and Baughn says she no longer even practices.
In a statement, Choudhury denied all of the allegations against him and asserted that he's not the predatory devil in charge of a nightmarish yoga hell:
"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," the statement said. "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."