The millionaire founder of the wildly popular Bikram yoga is in the midst of a sex scandal after a former student accused him of sexual harassment, discrimination, and defamation.
According to legal documents filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court earlier this month, Bikram Choudhury, 67, allegedly made former students brush his hair, give him massages, and even have sex with him.
Leading the charge is former student Sarah Baughn, 28, who says Choudhury was her hero until he came onto her during a training course in Los Angeles in 2005. Baughn claims Choudhury, who is married, pursued her for years and ultimately ruined her career as an aspiring Bikram yoga instructor when she refused his advances.
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Bikram is a form of yoga that involves practicing traditional routines in extremely hot temperatures. Choudhury has drawn celebrity followers including David Beckham, George Clooney, Beyoncé, and Madonna.
Some Bikram studio owners are wondering how to confront the accusations.
Tricia Donegan, the owner of Bikram Yoga on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, told the New York Times
that some students did not even know that Bikram was an actual person.
“Bikram’s name may be on the door,” she told the Times, “but my particular space is a safe haven.”
Baughn reportedly dropped out of college to study under Choudhury, but says she grew uncomfortable when she noticed other female students brushing Choudhury's hair and washing his feet. She claims he offered her a diamond Rolex watch at one point and confessed his feelings.
"What should we do about this?" Choudhury said, according to the lawsuit. "I have never felt this way about anyone," he continued, adding, "Should we make this a relationship?"
The legal document claims that Choudhury's advances continued, and accused him of pressing his body against Baughn's while adjusting her posture in classes, whispering sexually charged comments into her ear, ordering her to kiss him in front of other trainees, and assaulting her in a hotel room in Acapulco, Mexico, during a teacher training, according to the Times.
Choudhury's demeanor is said to have changed when Baughn wouldn’t reciprocate feelings. She claims he humiliated her in front of other students, rigged yoga competitions so she would lose, and refused to hire her as an instructor, essentially ruining her career.
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Rajashree Choudhury, Bikram's wife, is also named as a defendant in the suit for denying Baughn employment.
Choudhury has not commented publicly on the allegations against him.
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