At a book signing in New York in 2007
|Born||February 10, 1944|
|Known for||Founder of Bikram Yoga|
|Spouse(s)||Rajashree Choudhury (1984-2016; divorced)|
Bikram Choudhury (born February 10, 1944) is an Indian-born-American yoga teacher, and the founder of Bikram Yoga, a form of hot yoga consisting of a fixed series of 26 postures practised in a hot environment of 40 °C (104 °F).
Choudhury is the subject of civil suits alleging sexual assault and discrimination against racial and sexual minorities. In 2017, a court awarded $7 million to his former lawyer, Minakshi Jafa-Boden, who gained control of his yoga business when Choudhury fled to India.
Life and work
Born in Kolkata in 1944, Bikram Choudhury began learning Hatha Yoga poses in the late summer of 1969. In his books, however, he claimed to have begun studying yoga at a very young age, and to have won the National India Yoga Championship for three consecutive years in his teens. However, the first ever Yoga competition in India took place in 1974, long after he had left the country. Recent evidence from interviews for the podcast series "30for30" on Choudhury (2018, ESPN) and from Jerome Armstrong's book, Calcutta Yoga, have proven his claims both of early training under Bishnu Charan Ghosh and of winning the National India Yoga Championships to be false.
Choudhury developed a 26-posture series, by piecing together existing sequences from over 500 poses and variations created by Ghosh, and put it into his signature series which takes about ninety minutes to perform. The 104 °F (40 °C) heat in which Bikram Yoga is practiced is, according to Choudhury, meant to mimic the climate of India. Choudhury has been closely associated with America's competitive yoga from its inception; the annual Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup is named for his teacher.
In 1971 Choudhury emigrated to the United States and began to teach yoga. He opened his first studio in Los Angeles, teaching his own style of yoga. The author Brigid Delaney describes the atmosphere around him as "fawning": he was, she writes, treated reverentially, as if he were a guru, though he was a "braggart" openly boasting about the film stars he had taught and the money he had made. He was rude and insulting to students; in Netflix's 2019 documentary film, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator directed by Eva Orner, he uses abusive language and jeers at overweight pupils. The critic Adrian Horton writes that the film "visually synthesizes decades of archival footage with first-person testimony and filmed court depositions into a devastating portrait of an abusive narcissist protected from consequences by his own inflated cult of personality, wealth and professional power within the niche world of hot yoga."
All the same, Bikram Yoga expanded rapidly across America. In the 1990s, he began offering nine-week teacher certification courses, training thousands of instructors. Bikram Yoga studios were founded in many countries around the world.
In 1984, Choudhury married Rajashree Choudhury, who assisted him in founding the United States Yoga Federation and the International Yoga Sports Federation (IYSF). She won the first National Yoga Championship held by the Yoga Federation of India in 1979, followed by four more consecutive years as National Yoga Champion. In December 2015, after 31 years of marriage, Rajashree filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized in May 2016. Rajashree was awarded the houses in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, and some of his luxury cars, while he kept the apartment in Hawaii. The settlement indemnified Rajashree from financial responsibility in Bikram's pending (or possible future) lawsuits.
Copyright claims on Bikram Yoga
Bikram Choudhury previously made claims that the series of 26 postures of his yoga practice, Bikram Yoga, was under copyright and that it could not be taught or presented by anyone whom he had not authorized. Choudhury began making copyright claims on Bikram Yoga in 2012. In 2011 Choudhury started a lawsuit against Yoga to the People, a competing yoga studio founded by a former student and with a location near one of the Bikram Yoga studios in New York City. As a result of that lawsuit, the United States Copyright Office issued a clarification that yoga postures (asanas) could not be copyrighted, and that Yoga to the People and others could continue to teach the series.
Lawsuits and sexual assault allegations
Choudhury has faced lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, assault, racism and homophobia. By January 2014, five women were suing Bikram Choudhury with allegations including sexual harassment and sexual assault. Two lawsuits accusing Bikram Choudhury of rape were filed in May 2013, with other counts of sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, and harassment. One suit describes a cult-like atmosphere where members of Choudhury's inner circle help him find young women to assault. Another suit claims that Choudhury recruits volunteers from overseas who are "so in fear of defendant Bikram Choudhury's wrath that they will travel to the US and risk violating immigration laws in order to serve him."
Minakshi Jafa-Bodden served as Head of Legal and International Affairs from Spring 2011 to March 13, 2013, when she claims she was "abruptly and unlawfully terminated" according to the court documents filed on July 12, 2013, in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles. During the two years that Jafa-Bodden worked closely with Choudhury, she claims she was both the victim of and witness to Choudhury's "severe, ongoing, pervasive and offensive conduct" toward women, homosexuals, African Americans and other minorities. Bikram Yoga teacher Sarah Baughn filed a sexual harassment suit in March, just before Jafa-Bodden was fired. On January 25, 2016, a jury awarded Jafa-Bodden $924,500 against Choudhury in actual damages. The jury also found that Choudhury acted with malice, oppression and fraud. On January 26, 2016, the jury awarded Jafa-Bodden an additional $6.4 million in punitive damages.
In May 2016, Bikram Choudhury returned to India where he began opening yoga studios. In October 2016, Choudhury's attorney stated that his client will not return to the United States to defend himself in person at the other pending court cases, and hopes to be able to testify via Skype. In a late 2016 interview on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Bikram responded to the accusations by asking, "Why would I have to harass women? People spend one million dollars for a drop of my sperm." He then called his accusers "trash" and "psychopaths."
In May 2017, a warrant was issued for Choudhury’s arrest by a Los Angeles judge on the grounds that Choudhury had fled the country without paying any of the $7 million owed to Jafa-Bodden in compensation and punitive damages. An additional fraudulent transfer lawsuit was filed against Choudhury’s wife and his children, who had allegedly “assisted him in hiding, absconding with and attempting to dispose of assets.” The New York Daily News reported that luxury vehicles and other items of Choudhury's had been moved out of state and a court order preventing him from moving any of his other possessions out of warehouses in Florida and Nevada has been issued.
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'I met my husband when I was balancing my body on swords — one of the acts as part of the competition,' said Rajashree, five-time winner of the All-India Yoga Championship between 1979 to 1983.
- "Bikram Yoga founder's wife seeks divorce after rape allegations". 28 December 2015.
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- Yoga Journal "Rape Accusations Against Bikram Choudury" http://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2013/05/rape-accusations-against-birkram-choudury.html Archived 8 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- The Raw Story "Millionaire Yoga Guru Bikram Choudhury Accused of Rape and Human Trafficking" http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/05/14/millionaire-yoga-guru-bikram-choudhury-accused-of-rape-and-human-trafficking/
- Yoga Dork "Former Bikram Legal Advisor Files Extremely Disturbing Lawsuit over Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, Assault" http://yogadork.com/news/lawsuit-asana/bikrams-former-head-of-legal-files-extremely-disturbing-complaint-involving-sexual-harassment-discrimination/
- L.A. Times "Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury must pay $900,000 to former employee, jury decides" http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-yoga-guru-bikram-choudhury-20160125-story.html
- "Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury must pay $6.4 million in punitive damages, jury decides". Los Angeles Times. 26 January 2016.
- "Disgraced hot yoga guru Bikram Choudhury winds up US business, sets shop in Lonavla". 2016-05-26.
- "Yoga Guru Won't Return to US for Deposition, Atty Says - Law360".
- Hatch (2016-10-28). "Bikram Yoga Creator Loses It When Asked About Sexual Assault Allegations". Retrieved 24 October 2018.
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- Reynolds, Meagan. "Warrant Issued for Bikram Yoga Founder Who Has Left the Country Without Paying $7 Million Suit". Jezebel.com. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
- Bodner, Brett. "Arrest warrant issued for yoga mogul Bikram Choudhury in California". New York Daily News. Retrieved 26 May 2017.