bikram choudhury sued for sexual harassment & discrimination

bikram-sex-scandal

Bikram Choudhury in his glory (image via details.com)

Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, is involved in another legal case – this time, instead of suing others for patent or copyright infringement, Bikram is being sued for alleged sexual harassment and discrimination by a former student.

I couldn’t take this story too seriously, since it first turned up in tabloid rags the New York Post and the Daily Mail earlier today. But it caught the attention of YogaDork (who managed to attain the court documents), the YJ Yoga Buzz and Yoganonymous, and finally appeared on The Guardian this afternoon. So it’s something.

The Guardian reports:

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.”

Those of involved in the contemporary yoga conversation might be feeling a sort of “yoga sex scandal fatigue” – this lawsuit is just the latest in a string of high-profile allegations against male teachers like John Friend and Kausthub Desikachar. The refined and supposedly ethical Zen Buddhist world has also exposed its own shadows beneath the robes with allegations against Joshu Sasaki coming to light.

What these cases illuminate is the lack of accountability, ethical responsibility and basic integrity in the modern yoga world.

“This story has made me think more about the emotional injuries that yoga can cause,” reflected Prevent Yoga Injury on Facebook. “So far, our work has been focused on preventing physical injury and helping students learn how to work around existing medical conditions. There is another element, and that is the emotional distress that yoga can cause when a student feels unworthy and a teacher preys upon that lack of confidence/ego…”

  1. Thanks for this, Roseanne. (Im curious, though, to get a better sense about what *your* conclusion is.) As a Bikram yoga practitioner, there are lots of things I love about the practice, and I just hang on to that stuff and work to leave the rest. I have never been in the slightest bit drawn to him as a person. The whole “kill yourself” in the “torture chamber”, “lock the knee” and “go beyond your flexibility” to a “pain sensation” stuff makes me cringe. But more than that, all the ego that seems to be associated with the man himself makes me crinkle up my nose and shake my head.
    Whether he was inappropriate with his student or not wont keep me from going to my favourite yoga studio as much as I can manage, but thats because for me, its never been about him. (Forgive my grammar, my apostrophe key isnt working.)

  2. “What these cases illuminate is the lack of accountability, ethical responsibility and basic integrity in the modern yoga world.”

    This is not just a problem of the yoga world. All week NPR has been focusing on women in the US military and the shocking prevalence of rape. There is the terrible case of the drunk teenage girl and the boys who not only thought it was ok to engage is sexual acts with her, but also to publicize it. There was of course the horrible gang rape of the Indian medical student and, more recently, a bike tourist in India. And let’s not even get started on the DRC, where someone who worked for Doctors without Boarders once told me that she would see about a hundred women who had been gang raped EVERY WEEK and this was at a small clinic.

    I could go on, but in short, in many, perhaps most, parts of the world, many men still feel they can do whatever they want to women.

    • yes Theresa- i agree 100%. i feel these instances are part of a larger issue where in our society women have not achieved parity on all levels of social standing and beliefs.

  3. “What these cases illuminate is the lack of accountability, ethical responsibility and basic integrity in the modern yoga world.” I basically agree, but why is it always necessary to stick words like “modern” (or “western”) into these very correct sentences? If the modern western yoga world is ever going to move forward in terms of accountability, ethical responsibility, basic integrity, etc., a good first step would be to drop the (ironically very western) romanticism of pure and spiritual traditions that only became corrupted once they entered the fallen world of the modern west. Yes, the commercialism and emphasis on perfect bodies that have infected yoga may have western pedigrees. Gurus fucking and otherwise abusing their students, on the other hand…that’s a practice far more “traditional” than any of our favorite asanas.

  4. I’m reading The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali at the moment. Maybe Mr. Choudhury should, too.

  5. Simply put…. Being a yoga guru does not make you a saint. There are sleeze balls in every walk of life…..gasp even in eastern cultures…. buyer be ware!!!!

  6. I think that the closing paragraph about emotional injury raises a hugely important point. That needs to be an ongoing discussion, along with the preventing physical injury piece of it. And both discussions should be built into every YTT, along with a clear recognition that these problems exist, and our work is to minimize them.

  7. well it seems to me everyone is assuming guilt merely because he’s male without even bothering to reasonable explore the actual details once they emerge………………very enlightened

  8. Well done. Important post. I have a site and campaign that might be of
    interest re: the story. http://www.IAmMyOwnGuru.com

    Thanks for your work.

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