Bikram yoga founder accused of sexually harassing protege

By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:41 EDT
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Man with woman doing yoga (Shutterstock)
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Bikram yoga founder’s former student alleges the yogi prevented her from teaching because she refused his sexual advances

The founder of “hot yoga”, Bikram Choudhury, has been accused of sexual harassment and discrimination by one of his top students.

The 67-year-old founder of the international Bikram yoga studio is alleged to have pursued protege Sarah Baughn, 29, for years, claiming they were connected in a past life and his wife didn’t understand him. Eventually his pursuit turned physical, she claims.

According to a suit filed in Los Angeles’ superior court, Choudury denied Baughn an international championship title she had been awarded and has prevented her from teaching “because of her past and continuing refusal to have sex with her guru.”

The multi-millionaire founder of the international chain claims to have taught yoga to presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton. Celebrities such as Madonna, David Beckham, George Clooney, Jennifer Anniston and Lady Gaga have all practiced the yoga system, which consists of 26 sequential poses and takes place in rooms heated to over 100 degrees farenheit.

Choudhury claims to have a fleet of Rolls Royces, has compared himself to Jesus and Elvis and claims to have the biggest pool in Beverly Hills.

Choudhury and his wife Rajashree control the Bikram yoga empire from their home in Beverly Hills, California and have clashed in court with other yoga studios over what they claim is their patent on “hot yoga.”

According to the suit, Choudhury told Baughn: “My wife is such a bitch, you have no idea.” He told Baughn: “I am so lonely. I am dying. I can feel myself dying. I will not be alive if someone doesn’t save me.”

Baughn’s suit describes how she began practising Bikram while a student studying creative writing in 2004. She said that, encouraged by her yoga teachers, she dropped out of college at age 20 to dedicate herself full time to yoga. She paid Choudhury $7,500 to attend a “gruelling” nine-week training course.

“Very early in training, Sarah Baughn noticed that Bikram Choudhury’s relationship with young women yoga students was different,” the suit says. Young women were chosen to brush the pony-tailed guru’s hair and give him massages, it alleges. On the third night of training Choudhury had one of his students hand Baughn his diamond-studded Rolex watch.

Choudhury insisted that he had known Baughn in a past life and the connection was “so strong and meaningful that he still remembered it.” After he continued his pursuit, she complained to other members of the studio and was told Bikram was “not a good man” but a “good teacher.”

In one class Baughn alleges Bikram “pushed her down towards the floor after pulling her leg apart and opening her body,” according to the suit. He then pressed his body against her and “began whispering sexual things to her until she collapsed in sobs,” the suit alleges.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Man with woman doing yoga via Shutterstock]

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