News Summaries from ICSA Periodicals
Hot-yoga guru in hot water over sexual assault allegations, lawsuit payments, and arrest warrant
“For many of the guru’s millions of followers worldwide, Bikram Choudhury’s signature ‘hot yoga,’ performed in sweltering, sweaty rooms, is a euphoric, spiritual practice that promotes healthy, peaceful living. But over the course of about two years, the yoga tycoon’s image has been tarnished by numerous sexual assault allegations and lawsuits. And now, attorneys say, Choudhury is on the run, dodging court hearings and a legal judgment. …Choudhury, who is a three-time national yoga champion in his native India, created his system of yoga in the 1970s, turning it into a global yoga empire. Bikram yoga [sic], which consists of 26 poses done in a 105-degree room for over 90 minutes, attracted celebrity clients such as Raquel Welch and Quincy Jones, the founder bragged. But for Jafa-Bodden, who worked as head of legal and international affairs at Choudhury’s yoga school from 2011 until 2013, there was a grim side to the business. She alleged that Choudhury sexually harassed and inappropriately touched her, tried to get her to stay with him in a hotel suite, and subjected her to obscene comments about women and minority groups. She accused him of pressuring her to cover up his sexual harassment of women. …Speaking to CNN in 2015, Choudhury repeatedly denied sexually assaulting anyone, saying he would never resort to physical aggression to have sex because he has so many offers. …The attorneys said Choudhury tried to ship the cars and other property overseas, and tracked a number of vehicles in Florida and Nevada. Osten said the legal team now has court orders in those states preventing him from moving property from warehouses. …Despite the allegations, the yoga master continues to travel and teach classes worldwide, Osten said, including recently in Acapulco, Mexico. The arrest warrant means authorities can flag Choudhury at any airport, and the legal team can work with authorities to arrest the yoga master in Mexico or any country that is a member of The Hague Convention. …In interviews with the Los Angeles Times, three of the women who have filed lawsuits say Choudhury nurtured a cultlike devotion among followers that allowed him to take advantage of female students. That devotion—and a fear of being exiled from the yoga community—kept victims and others from speaking up, the women told the Los Angeles Times.” (National Post, 05/26/17) [8.3]
Bikram Yoga founder stripped of empire after losing sexual harassment case
“The founder of a superheated form of yoga followed by celebrities such as Madonna, Beyonce, and David Beckham has been stripped of his worldwide empire and ordered to hand over his fleet of luxury cars, it was reported yesterday. Bikram Choudhury, 70, was said to have been told to surrender his business after losing a sexual harassment case in Los Angeles. …Ms Jafa-Bodden, 47, alleged that she had been wrongfully dismissed for investigating allegations against him of sexual harassment and assault. …She joined the Bikram empire in 2011, having studied at Oxford and worked in international litigation at a firm in the City of London. She was awarded $US6.4 million by Los Angeles superior court. The award was reduced to $US4.6 million in April, although with legal costs the total judgment in favour of Ms Jafa-Bodden is said to be nearly $US6.7 million. After the latest ruling, Ms Jafa-Bodden is to receive the 700 franchised Bikram Yoga studios around the world and Choudhury’s fleet of 43 cars, which includes 13 Rolls-Royces, eight Bentleys, and three Ferraris. She told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Bikram is no longer the boss of Bikram Yoga. I am. I’ve been to hell and back but the jury has spoken. Bikram has tried to conceal assets and has fled America, but justice will be done.’ …In October Choudhury gave an interview to HBO’s Real Sports in which he called the women accusing him of rape ‘trash’ and said that ‘one drop of my sperm’ was worth $US1 million. The yogi said he could cure ‘Parkinson’s disease, Aids, cancer,’ and that 5,000 women a day—’the most beautiful, famous, rich women in the world’—wanted to sleep with him. Choudhury’s lawyer, Mark Share, could not be reached for comment. The allegations have yet to be investigated by the police.” (The Australian, 01/02/17) [IT 8.2]
Yoga guru must pay compensation to former employee, jury decides
The founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury, has been ordered to pay his former employee Minakshi Jafa-Bodden $924,500. In her lawsuit against Choudhury, Jafa-Bodden alleges that she was sexually harassed, suffered gender discrimination, and was fired after she began investigating claims that Choudhury raped a yoga student. Choudhury denies all of these accusations and told jurors that he let Jafa-Bodden go because she didn’t have a license to practice law in the United States. The hearing for punitive damages began on January 26, 2015. Many other women have filed lawsuits against Choudhury claiming sexual harassment and abuse. (Los Angeles Times, 01/25/16) [IT 7.2 2016]
Court denies copyright for yoga guru’s moves
Bikram Choudhury, the infamous yoga instructor who developed Bikram Yoga classes, has sued Evolation Yoga for copyright infringement, claiming that his “sequence of poses and breathing exercises” are subject to copyright. However, a federal judge found that the sequence was not entitled to copyright protection, and a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling. Evolation attorney Eric Maier with Maier Schoch in Hermosa Beach, California, said, “Evolation is very pleased that the Ninth Circuit has made it clear that yoga belongs to everybody, and no individual owns any particular style or sequence of yoga poses.” Attorneys for Choudhury did not respond to a request for comment. (Courthouse News Service, 10/8/15) [IT 7.1 2016]
Guru denies raping six women from his “hot yoga” classes
Bikram Choudhury, the popular guru who runs Bikram School, has denied rape allegations against him. In his first interview since the rape allegations were made in 2013, Mr. Choudhury told CNN, “I never assaulted them.” He appeared to imply that he did not need to assault women because he had so many offers of sex. “Women like me. Women love me,” he said. “So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women.” Mr. Choudhury insisted that he had not assaulted any of the six women nor had consensual sex with them. He said he believed they had been told by someone else to make up the allegations. (The New Indian Express, The Daily Telegraph, 4/3/15) [IT 6.3 2015]
Bikram Choudhury, yoga guru, sued by instructor for alleged sexual assault
Jill Lawler of Vancouver is the sixth woman who has filed a lawsuit against yoga millionaire Bikram Choudhury for allegedly sexually assaulting her during an instructor-training course in Las Vegas in 2010. The civil lawsuit she filed says she was 18 when she began training with, and then working for, Choudhury’s yoga business. Lawler says she paid $10,000 in 2010 to attend a 9-week intensive yoga instructor-training course, despite the fact that she did not meet the course’s age requirement of 21. The lawsuit alleges that
- Lawler began massaging Choudhury’s feet and he sexually assaulted her.
- “One night about a week later Choudhury insisted that Jill accompany him to his hotel room … where in addition to raping her, Choudury demanded she say disgusting and untrue things…
- Choudhury assaulted Lawler again during his training session and on other occasions over the coming years while she was working at his studios.
Lawler was afraid to say anything to authorities because she was afraid he would prevent her from working at the Vancouver studios and make it impossible for her to make a living. Choudhury also told her that he knew people with power, such as police.
Lawler alleges that, once she learned of another woman who had filed a lawsuit against Choudhury, he became worried and tried to bribe her to keep quiet. The allegations have not been proven in court, and Choudhury has not filed a response to the lawsuit. Lawler’s lawyer Mary Shea Hagebols is also representing five other women who filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2014 against Choudhury for alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Choudhury is known for developing and copyrighting a sequence of 26 yoga postures that are normally performed in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius. His chain of 650 yoga studios around the world has made the Beverley Hills resident a multimillionaire. (CBC News, 2/25/15) [IT 6.3 2015]
John Friend’s “feel good” Anusara Yoga empire, with 1,500 licensed teachers and more than 600,000 students worldwide, crashed in 2012 following accusations against Friend of financial mismanagement, having affairs with married students, receiving marijuana in the mail, and engaging in Wiccan rituals. Nonetheless, Friend is staging a comeback, in Denver. “I get to start over with something better than I had before,” he says, as he develops a new yoga posture system called Sridava, in collaboration with sisters Desi and Micah Springer, co-owners of Vital Yoga. (Houston Press, 1/15/14) [IT 5.2]
Bikram/“hot yoga” pioneer Bikram Choudhury is under fire in the midst of lawsuits women claiming sexual misconduct have filed against him. Five women in the past year have filed civil lawsuits against Bikram, one accusing him of sexual assault, and four of rape.
Plaintiff Sarah Baughn, together with two other women who are pursuing lawsuits against Bikram and his Yoga College of India, detailed their claims on ABC News’ Nightline. Baughn, a former yoga champion, told Nightline’s David Wright that she met Bikram in 2005 when she attended his 9-week teacher-training course. Baughn said Bikram took an immediate interest in her and repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances, which she rebuffed and reported at least once to a staff member. But the advances continued and resumed at a later date when Baughn solicited feedback from Bikram before a 2008 competition organized by USA Yoga: “…he told me that the only way I could ever win the yoga competition was if I had sex with him.” Baughn told Nightline she fought her way free and competed, placing second. One of the judges told ABC News that hers was the strongest routine and that Bikram likely overturned their decision to award her top honors. Baughn said another judge had told her after the competition that “she was robbed.” That judge told ABC News he stood by the integrity of the judging and disputed ever telling Baughn she was “robbed” of the title.
The other two former Bikram students who spoke with Nightline are making similar accusations. Larissa Anderson said she was once a devoted disciple and a member of Bikram’s inner circle until he “raped me.” She said Bikram’s wife and children were sleeping upstairs when the alleged assault took place. She claims there’s a pattern of vulnerability among the women he targets. A third woman asked that her name be withheld. She claims Bikram raped her three separate times in 2010. Because she was financially dependent on Bikram and believed her career as a yoga teacher was on the line, she said she kept the alleged rapes to herself until she agreed to be a part of a civil suit against him. Mary Shea, the attorney representing the women, said that like Anderson and Baughn, Jane Doe No. 3 did not file any police reports until several years after the alleged incidents.
The Los Angeles district attorney declined to bring any criminal charges against Bikram, so all the current cases are in civil court. Through their attorneys, Bikram and his company declined a Nightline request for an interview and issued a statement categorically denying the allegations. It said, “The defendants strongly dispute the allegations at issue and intend to vindicate themselves in court. They do not intend to try this case in the media.” (ABC News, 2/26/14) [IT 5.2]
Recent scandals involving yoga franchises developed by Bikram Choudhury (Bikram yoga) and John Friend (Anusara yoga) indicate that even though they call themselves teachers rather than gurus,
the game remains very much the same: match a charismatic teacher with eager and often vulnerable students, add a touch of human ego, and just enough mysticism that students won’t question any dodgy practices too closely. Wait a few years, then watch the whole thing end up in court cases and recriminations.
(Daily Life, 2/5/14) [IT 5.2] Two former students of millionaire yoga guru Bikram Choudhury have separately sued him, alleging that he raped them and that his followers recruit women, knowing that he wants to have sex with them. The suits follow one earlier this year by another female student that alleged sexual harassment. One of the new complainants accuses Choudhury and 25 members of his inner circle of sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, and harassment. This complainant says there is a cult-like environment in Choudhury’s studios, where [franchise] owners and instructors enroll attractive, vulnerable young women to practice a form of Hatha Yoga in a 105-degree atmosphere for a brutal 9-week program at a cost of $13,000. Students, she says, must abjure sex and are taught that Bikram Yoga can cure cancer and other diseases, and that Choudhury is “akin to God.” Her extremely detailed complaint contends, among other things, that “every moment of a student’s day is controlled by a schedule set by Bikram Choudhury. The day usually starts at 7:00 am and ends between 2:00 am and 3:00 am.” What they eat, drink, and wear—no green, but tight and skimpy; their facial expressions; what they say; and even the positions of their bodies are all controlled. The aim, she claims, was to “break down her body, will, and spirit” and brainwash her with Choudhury’s “vision and teachings.” According to the lawsuit, her life unraveled when she returned home—“Her long-term relationship fell apart; and she went into a severe depression, attempted suicide, started drinking, doing drugs, engaged in uncharacteristically impulsive behavior, quit her job, and cut off communication from almost everyone in her daily life … and lived in constant fear” that Choudhury would come to her home and attack her. She also claims that some students who come to the United States illegally are made to serve Choudhury for no pay, or fo very little, and are forced to submit to his sexual assaults. (Courthouse News Service, 5/8/13) [IT 4.3 2013]