Bikram Choudhury is the most controversial name in yoga. Known for his competitive, rigorous approach to the peaceful practice, Choudhury gained a cult following and built his reputation to near-God-like status. That all came crashing down when horrible allegations of discrimination and sexual assault came to light. Now, there’s a warrant out for his arrest.
Choudhury Made Derogatory Remarks About Women During His Classes
At his teacher training and in his regular Bikram classes, Choudhury is known to have an intensely aggressive attitude towards his students and multiple accounts prove that sometimes he took it too far. Pandhora Williams attended teacher training in 2010 and Choudhury reportedly had no filter within the first few weeks of training.
She recalled to Vanity Fair Choudhury’s remarks that women “are here for one reason: to spread their legs and make babies.” When a woman got up in the middle of practice, he singled her out and said out loud, “Where are you going, to change your tampon?”
Bikram Choudhury Made An Appalling Comment About The LGBT Community
There was a gay African-American man who is H.I.V.-positive who attended the same training as Williams. Vanity Fair reported that he recalled “listening in pained silence as Choudhury shared his thoughts on how ‘most gay people would die of AIDS’ and ‘they should put them on an island so they all die together, something like that.'”
These appalling remarks allegedly came from someone who many regarded as a leader in the realm of yoga, a practice that no one would associate with discrimination and hate. Half-way through the training, Williams decided to take a stand.
Bikram Tells A Woman That She Is “A Cancer”
Williams walked up to her guru one day after class and asked him why he was “preaching hate” when “yoga is supposed to be about love.” Williams’ lawsuit claims that Choudhury told her, “We don’t sell love here, [expletive]!” before telling his assistant to “get that black [expletive] out of here. She’s a cancer.”
A fellow trainee would later confirm this confrontation, saying in a deposition for Williams’ suit that other students were warned not to be in contact with Williams or else their teaching certification would be jeopardized. As for Williams, her lawsuit also claims that she was kicked out of the training and Choudhury refused to refund her the $10,900 she paid to attend.
Jafa-Bodden Began To Look Into Choudhury’s Heinousness
When the Williams’ lawsuit landed on her desk, Jafa-Bodden was flabbergasted. “I realized that if half of this was true, we were facing a very serious situation,” she told The Guardian. She went on to say that “He uses profanities, he’s antisemitic, he’s homophobic. He’ll say things like, ‘Blacks don’t get my yoga.’ And once he starts on his tirade of profanity, he doesn’t stop.”
She soon realized that Choudhury was using his classes to speak from a bully pulpit. Jafa-Bodden also confirmed that “Once he’s picked on you, then you’ve had it for the entire class… There’s very little you can do… [The students’] livelihood depends on putting up with it.”
His Ten Thousand Dollar Training Has Some Intense Rules
Bikram Choudhury’s teacher training classes were obligatory for anyone who wanted to teach Bikram yoga or open their own affiliated studio. Over the course of nine weeks, Bikram followers engaged in two 90-minute hot yoga classes a day, in addition to anatomy lessons, posture clinics, as well as memorizing 45 pages of the Bikram “dialogue.”
At night, it was mandatory for trainees to watch Bollywood movies with Choudhury in a darkened tent, often until past three in the morning even though the next day started at eight.He forbade students from wearing the color green and even sometimes deprived them of food, water, or sleep.
Sarah Baughn Was One Of The First Women To Claim Harassment
In 2004, Sarah Baughn dropped out of Washington State to devote her life to Bikram yoga, which she credited with healing her scoliosis and making her a happier person. When she first attended Choudhury’s teacher training, she was immediately singled out by her new guru. On the third night, Baughn noticed Choudhury eyeing her and watched as he ordered another trainee to bring him his diamond-encrusted Rolex.
Baughn was flattered but also uncomfortable by the gesture. On the fifth day, Choudhury called her into his office and told her “Should we make this a relationship? …I have never, never felt like this about anyone,” she recounted to Vanity Fair.
Baughn Was Told To “Separate The Man From The Teacher”
Her awkward confrontation with Choudary brought Baughn tears. She quickly told a male staffer about the encounter and he matter-of-factly told her to “separate the man from the teacher.” Still dedicated to the Bikram yoga style, Baughn entered and won national and international yoga competitions. As the months wore on, she assumed Choudhury had taken interest in someone else, which is why she continued to work with him.
During a 2008 teacher training seminar in Acapulco, he cornered her and held her against the door while he groped her. She fought him off and managed to flee, but afterward, she claimed that Choudhury prevented her from teaching advanced seminars and discouraged other studios from scheduling her to teach classes.
Choudhury Forced This Woman To Break Up With Her Boyfriend Or Leave
After Baughn came forward with her case, many other women began offering their own horror stories. Larissa Anderson was introduced to Bikram yoga by her then-boyfriend, Greg Gumucio. Anderson adored Bikram yoga for healing her emotionally and soon grew to become a part of Choudhury’s inner circle.
After Choudhury’s aforementioned falling out with Gumucio, he ordered Anderson to prove her loyalty by cutting off ties with Gumucio. When she refused, Choudhury said, “You need to leave. You are no longer welcome here,” according to Vanity Fair. But eventually, Anderson apologized and was welcomed back into Choudhury’s circle.
Choudhury Defiled Her While His Wife And Kids Slept Upstairs
When she was at the Choudhury household one night for dinner, Larissa Anderson recalled that Choudhury asked her for a massage after his wife had gone to bed. After Anderson began to nod off, Choudhury forced himself upon her. Her lawsuit claims, “She simply froze. Larissa could not find her voice to cry out for help… Defendant forcefully spread Larissa’s legs apart and ejaculated. It did not last long.”
Anderson remained silent about the incident as she stayed in the Bikram community while keeping her distance from Choudhury. By 2011, she was nearly set to open her own studio in Washington, but after she rebuffed Choudhury’s advances at another training seminar, “he wouldn’t list her studio on his Website, in violation of the affiliation agreement she’d signed,” according to Vanity Fair.
She Once Felt Safe And Honored To Be Around Him
Other women anonymously came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and rape in Jane Doe cases. Jane Doe 1 told Vanity Fair that Choudhury singled her out after a class and told her, “There were hundreds of bodies in that room tonight but you were the only one that listened to me… Put your mat upfront and close to me every class.”
Flattered, Doe 1 did as she was told saying, “You kind of felt you were in a safe place. It was such an honor to be around him.” But soon, Choudhury’s praise turned sour when he started coming on to her.
Choudhury Told Her She Was Undiscovered Gold
He kept her after class one night and tried convincing her to work at Bikram headquarters. According to Doe 1’s account, he said, “I can see something inside of you that no one else can. You will be greater than Mother Teresa, but you have to follow me. You have to do everything I tell you to do… I am your guru. I am your god… Without me, you will be a piece of gold undiscovered and covered in dirt.”
He then cornered her and forced her into a hug after she came out of the restroom, making it clear that he was waiting for her.
Choudhury Forced Her To “Save” Him
During another night of teacher training, Choudhury again tried to convince Doe 1 to work at his Bikram headquarters. He asked her to come up to his room to discuss the employment opportunity but promised that they wouldn’t be alone. She naively agreed but regretted it the moment they were in his room.
All of a sudden, he begged her to “save” him by giving him love and saying that his wife hated him. He allegedly said, “I need to spiritually enlighten you. In order to do that, we need to become one.” He then forcefully removed her pants and proceeded to rape his student.
They Told Her She Wouldn’t Graduate If She Left
Doe 1 then recounted that the next day, Choudhury’s talks were sexually charged. After she ran out of the tent crying, a male staffer told her, “You can’t just leave. You won’t graduate if you don’t attend every lecture.”
Doe fought back, screaming, “Bikram is a rapist! This is all an act and a scam. All of you know what’s going on here and yet you turn a blind eye! I’m going home. You people are all sick and I’m not going to be a part of this anymore.” But somehow, Doe 1 was convinced to stay, despite her humiliation.
“We All Know How Bikram Is, That’s Just Part Of It”
Staff at the teacher trainings hardly reacted to Jane Doe 1’s claims of rape. According to her lawsuit, she was told, “We all know how Bikram is, that’s just part of it. If you leave now, you will never be able to come back. You will be out of the Family forever. You will not graduate and all of your hard work will be for nothing.”
After graduating from that training, Doe 1 recalled that Choudhury pulled her aside and said, “If you come be with me, you will have everything you have ever dreamed of… If you [expletive] with me, I’ll [expletive] with you.”
Choudhury Fired Women For Getting Pregnant And Marrying The Wrong People
There are numerous other women who have come forward with similar cases in which Choudhury singled them out and made them feel special before trying to come onto them, then ruining their lives when they rejected him. In addition to these accusations, other lawsuits describe other horrid actions. One woman who worked at Bikram headquarters was fired after she became pregnant and was required to miss work due to complications.
When she found out she had been replaced, Bikram told her, “I should have fired you years ago.” Another woman named Francesca Asumah, who is of mixed race, was told that “people like [her] shouldn’t be born” and was fired from the organization when she married a man who did I.T. work for Choudhury.
Jafa-Bodden Became Too Aware Of Choudhury’s Malpractices
As his lawyer, Jafa-Bodden would often try to call Choudhury out on his actions but it would always backfire since he expected her to make all these allegations disappear. The job would soon start taking a toll on her. She told The Guardian, “I never received my paycheck on time or for the full amount agreed. I was dependent on Bikram for everything, including my work visa, my apartment, my car.
My cell phone was connected to his and my every move was monitored.” His former lawyer said it would have been risky to flee her employer without some type of well-thought-out exit strategy. “He would say they’d revoke my green card, so I’d be deported back to India.”
“He Told Me He Was A God Who Could Do Whatever He Wanted”
Jafa-Bodden revealed that she too was sexually harassed by Choudhury. After holding a business meeting in his hotel suite, he tried encouraging her to get into bed with him. At one point, he even publicly humiliated her in front of one of his classes, after she tried to tell him that he shouldn’t be taking trainees into his bedroom.
“At the outset, he expected me to be submissive. He told me he was a god who could do whatever he wanted and that I was ‘stupid and too westernized’,” she told The Guardian.
Choudhury Fired Jafa-Bodden After She Dug Too Deep
When Jafa-Bodden was subpoenaed to appear in court to testify in the Williams case in 2013, Choudhury flipped out and told her, “Well, we’ll just tell them we don’t know where you are.” He then terminated her contract and left her with nothing. Jafa-Bodden had very little money since she wasn’t being paid on time and she had no car or cell phone.
She even had to move out of the apartment the Choudhury’s acquired for her. She did the only plausible thing possible and sued her former employer for unfair dismissal and sexual harassment.
The Only Woman To Win Against Choudhury (So Far)
Jafa-Bodden enlisted the help of California attorney Carla Minnard, the same attorney who subpoenaed her in the Williams case. When the case went to trial, Choudhury could only dismiss the accusations against him as “lies” and “big lies,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Mark Quigley, who also represented Jafa-Bodden, said that she “faced retaliation and intimidation when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behavior.
This verdict sends an important message, that speaking out when you see signs of sexual abuse is the right thing to do.” The jury unanimously ruled in favor of Jafa-Bodden in the case.
Jafa-Bodden Was Given Control Of Bikram Inc.
After the initial verdict in January 2016, Bikram Choudhury was ordered to pay Minakshi Jafa-Bodden $924,500 in damages. The following day, Jafa-Bodden was awarded $6.4 million in punitive damages. Choudhury quickly fled the country and refused to return. By December of that year, the judge ordered that because Choudhury would not return to the U.S., his intellectual property and the income from all his studio franchises would be handed over to Jafa-Bodden. His formerly effectively became president of Bikram Inc.
Like Jafa-Bodden, many other Birkram studios began distancing themselves from their founder. Jafa-Bodden, who still practices and stands by the Bikram sequence, now has to find a way to separate the practice from the man who gave it its name.
Choudhury’s Lawyers Have Started Abandoning Him
In February 2017, one of Choudhury’s own attorneys requested to be relieved as counsel from one of his many lawsuits after Choudhury has failed to cooperate and pay his legal fees. Additionally, a California judge approved a warrant for Choudhury’s arrest after failing to pay a single penny of the millions of dollars awarded to Jafa-Bodden.
Choudhury initially said that the decline in Bikram yoga had caused him to nearly go bankrupt and his fleet of luxury cars was given to the California government in an agreement to open an auto education school for children. The claim about donating his vehicles has been falsified by a representative from the Governor’s office.
Choudhury Has Gone Into Hiding With A Warrant Out For His Arrest
While Choudhury remains at large, he still advertises his nine-week teacher training on his websites, with seminars set to begin in Mexico. Attorney Carla Minnard told People that the arrest warrant “‘will enable us to have [Choudhury] arrested in any country that is a member of the Hague convention,’ including his native India and Mexico.” Choudhury’s bail is set at $8 million and there is also a lawsuit against his ex-wife and children who allegedly “have assisted him in hiding, absconding with and attempting to dispose of assets.”
“We are going to pursue payment of this judgment no matter where he goes, no matter how much it costs and no matter how long it takes,” Minnard has promised.
The Rise And Fall Of A Yoga Icon
Many women were eventually brave enough to come forward and speak out against the horrible actions of Bikram Choudary. With her victory, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden has become the woman who toppled a man who thought he was a god. As Bikram yoga moves forward, women who were tormented by yoga’s biggest monster hopefully have a little comfort in knowing a better person is now in charge.
But how did the man who was once so respected in the yoga community wind up with multiple sexual assault allegations against him as well as a warrant out for his arrest? From humble beginnings in India to a criminal at large, read on to learn about the rise and fall of a yoga icon and meet the woman who brought him down.
What Led Bikram Choudhury On His Path
Raised in Calcutta, India, Choudhury was only five years old when he found his guru. His family lived next to Ghosh’s College of Physical Education which was owned by Bishnu Ghosh, who was revered as a pioneer in the hatha yoga practice.
“There were kids there, working out with weights and doing yoga. I took my shirt off and started doing it. [Ghosh] said, ‘Hey, come here. Show me.’ So I started showing him yoga. He said, ‘Come every day. I teach you yoga.’ So I did it for 20 years,” Choudhury recounted to LA Weekly in 2003.
His Career Nearly Ended At 17
After six years of intense training, Choudhury went on to win the National India Yoga Competition, a feat he would repeat for three straight years. He accomplished the first win at just 11 years old, becoming the youngest winner in the competition’s history. Choudhury soon began weightlifting and regularly participated in strongman competitions throughout his teens.
But at 17, his physical pursuits came to a standstill when a spotter dropped an 80-pound weight on his knee. Western-trained doctors told him he would never fully recover from the injury and he almost didn’t become the yoga superstar he would later be recognized as by his self-built community of devoted worshippers.
Yoga Saved Choudhury From Being Permanently Crippled
Bishnu Ghosh realized the crippled Choudhury was in desperate need of help and he welcomed his former pupil back into his school to help rehabilitate his knee. In the span of eight months, Ghosh helped Choudhury recover from his injury with his yogic practice. He focused primarily on the lotus pose, a simple cross-legged sitting position that can put a strain on the knees if executed incorrectly.
Choudhury was amazed that he was able to make a full recovery by simply practicing yoga. He was fully convinced of its benefits and bought into a lifestyle of promoting the practice. “That’s why I become a yoga teacher. To fix the knees. From the knee I fix Body, then the mind, then the life,” Choudhury told LA Weekly.
His Recovery Helped Develop The Basis For Bikram Yoga
Ghosh was able to mend Choudhury’s knee using traditional hatha yoga, in which he picked specific asanas, or postures, for certain ailments. Choudhury decided to take his guru’s ideology to the next level, telling LA Weekly, “From 84 postures, or 550 variations of the postures, I picked out 26 postures like an antibiotic, and I put it in a sequence, like a song.”
This became the basis for his Bikram-style yoga, a 90-minute practice that begins and ends with a breathing exercise and consists of a sequence of the 26 asanas that Choudhury hand-picked.
Ghosh Did Not Support Choudhury’s Ideology
Choudhury’s new formula was met with opposition. “As a beginner, my guru disagreed with me. He said, ‘You cannot prescribe same thing for everybody,” Choudhury told LA Weekly. But his persistence was eventually met with some encouragement when Ghosh sent Choudhury out into the world as a “Yogacharya,” which is a respectful title for one who teaches yoga. Ghosh’s assignment became Choudhury’s life mission.
He told Choudhury to “Save the world, spread out the name of yoga. Complete my incomplete job.” With his teachers blessing, Bikram Choudhury set out to become one of the most prominent names in yoga.
Bikram’s Signature Heat Came Out Of Necessity
Choudhury’s first venture outside of India took him to Japan, where he initiated the concept of a heated room for yoga practice. Choudhury found it difficult to get through his 26-posture sequence during the harsh Japanese winters, so he brought space heaters into his studio.
The heated room made it easier for him and his students to execute the poses properly and get the most out of their practice, in addition to heightening their “sense of euphoria and purification,” according to GQ. A heated room is essential to Bikram-style yoga and in his later years, Choudhury would crank his studios’ temperature to 105°, which is meant to mimic the heat of India.
Choudhury Hit It Big In Hollywood
By the early 1970s, Bikram Choudhury brought his brand of yoga to the United States. He started out in Hollywood, where he taught yoga in the basement of a bank building. Back then, he asked for donations after each class but this humble attitude would not last long. Choudhury famously says that in those days, actress Shirley MacLaine was the one who told him that he ought to start charging for his classes since Americans wouldn’t understand the concept of donations for a class.
Choudhury’s other extremely dubious claim is that former president Richard Nixon was the one who invited him to America, hooking him up with his visa and even greeting him on the tarmac.
Everyone Only Saw One Side Of Bikram
Fast forward to the early 2000s, when the craze over Bikram Yoga and its brazen “founder” was at its peak. His classes were full of lithe young women and toned men, who wore next to nothing and were drenched in sweat. Choudhury began charging $20 per class and cranked each room temperature to a humid 105.° Despite the possibility of heatstroke, Choudhury’s disciples swear by his methods.
Even celebrities like George Clooney and Lady Gaga have been indoctrinated into the ways of Bikram, who at one point confidently claimed that he “saves” Hollywood. But it wasn’t long before his image began to crack and his true character would unravel before our eyes.
Bikram Built Up A Huge Following
Well into the mid-’90s, Choudhury began expanding his teachings by training loyal disciples. While yoga teacher training was traditionally done one on one, Choudhury had the idea to start training people en masse, working his way to teaching up to 400 people in one session — which by the way, did not come cheap.
Students would pay upwards of $10,000 to be trained in the ways of Bikram. Still, loyal students would say that the toil, sweat, and money were all worth the euphoric results that Bikram Yoga offered. Throughout his subsequent years of training, Choudhury had his favorite students, who more often than not would end up betraying him.
Choudhury Had No Faith In His Right Hand Man
Greg Gumucio moved to Los Angeles in 1996 and it wasn’t long before his sister convinced him to join her for Bikram teacher training. Gumucio had only taken three Bikram classes prior to enrolling in teacher training. His lack of experience in the practice led Choudhury to allegedly wish him “good luck” with a healthy dose of disdain.
Gumucio told LA Weekly in 2012, “[For] the next eight weeks he literally tried to kill me. I mean, maybe not literally, but he made it, like, uncomfortable, because I think he couldn’t believe this guy with so little training would go to the teacher training.” But Gumucio made it his goal to get in Choudhury’s good graces.
Gumucio Had To Go Through A Lot To Earn Choudhury’s Respect
One distinctive aspect of Choudhury’s persona is the way that he is fawned over by his followers. Students, primarily female, are often seen brushing Choudhury’s hair or giving him a massage. One day, Gumucio tried to change the way Choudhury saw him by taking initiative and offering to massage Choudhury himself. Gumucio said, “From that day forward he was nice to me.
But I had to pay a different kind of, you know, penalty. Because then he made me massage him, like, every single day for, like, four hours a day. I would be dripping with sweat all over, just from working on this crazy man.” But the brown-nosing worked and Gumucio would quickly become Choudhury’s right-hand man.
The Calm Before The Betrayal
For five years, Choudhury would consider Gumucio “a very good disciple,” even trusting Gumucio to run classes from the Bikram headquarters in LA while he vacationed. Gumucio eventually moved to Seattle, where he opened four of his own studios with names that weren’t associated with Bikram.
Over the years, many of Choudhury’s students would leave and try to open unaffiliated studios only to be met with a lawsuit from Choudhury’s legal team. Gumucio would eventually turn out to be no exception, although at first, Choudhury turned a blind eye to Gumucio’s own business ventures.
Gumucio’s New Friendship Did Not Sit Well With Choudhury
Gumucio opened yoga studios with the idea of making the practice accessible to everyone. While most Bikram studios charged an average of $20 per session, Gumucio’s classes only cost eight dollars and that brought in a higher volume of students. He even began incorporating other yoga styles at his studios after meeting software tycoon John McAfee, who had also become a yoga teacher.
Choudhury saw this move as disloyalty and according to LA Weekly, he allegedly told Gumucio, “You cannot be a [expletive] prostitute. You cannot have your feet in two holes.”
Gumucio Made Yoga More Accessible So Choudhury Sued Him
The strain caused Gumucio to take a break from yoga for several years but by 2006, he was back in the game. He had moved to New York City to start a family and was inspired to get back into his practice. He opened a small Manhattan studio that only charged donations but his classes were soon filled to the brim.
Gumucio was back in business, this time calling his studios “Yoga to the People.” He soon opened a number of other studios, but when his Manhattan studios caused nearby Bikram-affiliated studios to lose business, Choudhury finally put his foot down and hit Gumucio with a copyright lawsuit.
Can Yoga Be Copyrighted?
Yoga is a centuries-old practice with hundreds of asanas that offer hundreds of variations. The idea that someone would try to copyright a yoga move is unfathomable, but Gumucio inspired Choudhury to do just that. Choudhury tried to copyright his 26-posture sequence that makes Bikram yoga what it is.
Even though he curated the sequence he can’t lay claim to the postures themselves, which is why the U.S. Copyright Office said that the asanas could not be copyrighted in the way claimed by Bikram. The lawsuit ended in favor of other studios, which are legally free to teach the exercises. Gumucio and Choudhury reached a settlement in which Yoga to the People would refrain from teaching Bikram yoga.
Micki Jafa-Bodden Thought She Worked For A Family-Oriented Company
Just before Choudhury was to bring a lawsuit against Yoga to the People in 2011, Minakshi “Micki” Jafa-Bodden entered his life. Born in India and educated in law in the U.K., Jafa-Bodden was introduced to Choudhury by his Indian lawyer. Choudhury immediately hired her as Head of Legal and International Affairs for his burgeoning yoga enterprise. He went so far as to settle Jaffa-Bodden’s immigration papers and move her and her six-year-old daughter into a fully furnished apartment.
“I saw it as my forever job. It allowed me to combine my love of yoga and spirituality with the legal and business side of things. I was ready to take on a bigger role, and I also thought I was coming to work for a family-oriented company,” she told The Guardian.
She Thought That Bikram Choudhury Was Just “Eccentric”
Jafa-Bodden noticed something was amiss about her new boss but didn’t think much of it — at first. By this point, Choudhury had attained inconceivable wealth thanks to his yoga empire. He owned over 40 luxury cars and a Beverly Hills mansion and made sure everyone took notice.
When she first entered his home, Jafa-Bodden recalled that “[it] was like the lair of a Bollywood villain. It was very showy and elaborate, not quite what I was expecting from a yoga guru… I’ve dealt with high-net-worth individuals in all sorts of countries, and my read on Bikram was just that he was eccentric.”
Lawsuits Start To Expose Choudhury’s Dark Side
Choudhury had a tendency to mix his business expenditures with his personal ones, which is why Jafa-Bodden was first given the task to settle his unpaid expenses ― including a hotel bill totaling $1.8 million. Financial indiscretions aside, his legal counsel made it her mission to sort everything out for the better of the entire company which she described as “operational dysfunction.”
However, things took an unexpected turn for the worst when one of Choudhury’s former students, a woman named Pandhora Williams, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the famous yogi. Jafa-Bodden realized that there was a darker side to her new employer and the way he operated.