Bikram Choudhury 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 yoga teacher and the founder of Bikram Yoga, a form of hot yoga performed in a series of 26 hatha yoga postures done in a hot environment of 40 °C (104 °F). After several lawsuits were filed against him alleging sexual assault and various forms of discrimination against racial and sexual minorities, courts in 2017 awarded ownership of Bikram Yoga to former employee Minakshi “Micki” Jafa-Bodden after Choudhury fled from the United States to India.
Life and work
Born in Calcutta, India, Bikram Choudhury began learning Hatha Yoga poses in the late summer of 1969 at the age of 25. In his books, however, he fraudulently claims to have begun studying yoga at a very young age. He also claims to have won the National India Yoga Championship for three consecutive years in his teens, however, subsequent research has discovered that the first ever Yoga competition in India occurred in 1974, long after Bikram had left India. Recent evidence from interviews for the podcast series "30for30" on Bikram (2018, ESPN) and from Jerome Armstrong's book, Calcutta Yoga, have proven both his early training under Bishnu Charan Ghosh as well as his winning of the National India Yoga Championships, to be false.
Bikram developed a 26-posture series, by piecing together existing sequences created by Bishnu Charan Ghosh, and claims to have created it himself. The 105 degree Fahrenheit heat in which Bikram yoga is practiced is, according to Choudhury, meant to mimic the climate of India.
At age 20, Bikram describes being in a crippling weightlifting accident. Although he says he was told he would never be able to walk again, with the help of Ghosh, he reports to have fully recovered within 6 months. Choudhury emigrated to the United States in the 1970s and founded yoga studios in California and Hawaii. In the 1990s, he began offering nine-week teacher certification courses. Certified instructors now number in the thousands with Bikram Yoga studios all over the world.
Bikram Choudhury was married to Rajashree Choudhury, founder of the United States Yoga Federation. In December 2015, Rajashree filled for divorce from Bikram citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized in May 2016.
Copyright claims on Bikram Yoga
Bikram Choudhury previously made claims that the postures of his yoga practice, Bikram Yoga, were under copyright and that they could not be taught or presented by anyone whom he had not authorized. Bikram 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 of Bikram's 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 in the way claimed by Bikram, and that Yoga to the People and others could continue to freely teach these exercises.
Lawsuits and sexual harassment allegations
Choudhury has faced a number of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, assault, racism and homophobia. As of 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, in which a Jane Doe alleges sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment and other counts in addition to the rape allegation. It describes a cult-like atmosphere where members of Bikram’s inner circle help him find young women to assault. Jane Doe 2 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 "Micki" 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 Bikram, she claims she was both the victim of and witness to Bikram’s "severe, ongoing, pervasive and offensive conduct" toward women, homosexuals, African Americans and every other minority. Bikram 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 December 2015, Bikram’s wife of 31 years, Rajashree Choudhury, sued for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized in May 2016, with Rajashree being awarded the houses in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, as well as a number of her ex-husband's luxury cars, whereas Bikram was allowed only to keep the apartment in Hawaii. The terms of the settlement also indemnified Rajashree from any financial responsibility in Bikram's pending (or possible future) lawsuits.
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 a $7 million owed to Jafa-Bodden. 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.
- Choudury, Bikram (1978). Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class. Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc. ISBN 0-874-77081-5.
- Choudhury, B., & Reynolds, B. J. (2000). Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class (2nd ed.) (J. Goldstein, Ed.). New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc./Putnam.
- Choudury, Bikram (2007). Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-056808-9.
- "Superior Court of the State of California". scribd.com. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
- Godwin, Richard (18 February 2017). "'He said he could do what he wanted': the scandal that rocked Bikram yoga". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
- Erika Schickel (September 25, 2003). "Body Work". LA Weekly.
- Henderson, Julia L. "Bikram." 30for30, season 3, episodes 4&5, ESPN, 2018, https://30for30podcasts.com/bikram/.
- Jordan Susman, Your Karma Ran Over My Dogma: Bikram Yoga and the (Im)Possibilities of Copyrighting Yoga, 25 Loy. L.A. Ent. L. Rev. 245 (2004)
- Joshua Kurlantzick (March–April 2005). "The Money Pose". Mother Jones.
- Rebecca Moss (July 19, 2012). "Bikram Choudhury Battles for Control of the Hot Yoga Tradition he Invented". LA Weekly. Archived from the original on 2012-07-23.
- Maria Howard (October 21, 2012). "USA Yoga Federation founder wants yoga to become an Olympic sport". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
- "Bikram yoga guru's wife to get homes and cars in divorce". Mail Online. May 31, 2016.
- Yoga Journal "Rape Accusations Against Bikram Choudury" http://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2013/05/rape-accusations-against-birkram-choudury.html Archived 2013-06-08 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". latimes.com. Retrieved 2016-01-26.
- Hatch. "Bikram Yoga Creator Loses It When Asked About Sexual Assault Allegations". Retrieved 24 October 2018.
- Harris, Chris. "Arrest Warrant Issued after Hot Yoga Founder Allegedly Fled U.S. Without Paying $7M Lawsuit". People.com. People Magazine. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
- 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". www.nydailynews.com. New York Daily News. Retrieved 26 May 2017.