‘Hot Yoga’ Guru Faces Sexual Harassment Charges

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Bikram Choudhury is the pioneer of the widely successful Bikram Yoga, or “hot yoga.”  He teaches his 26-pose sequence in sweltering 105 degree temperatures.  

In a recent twist, however, student Sarah Baughn is suing him for sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment.

The complaint states that Baughn was discriminated against as a woman because she did not submit to Choudhury’s “repeated demands for sex, and because she successfully fought him off when he sexually assaulted her.”  

Baughn claims that because of her repeated refusal, she also was hindered professionally and was denied the judge-determined title of yoga’s International Champion in 2008.

“He’s affirmatively tried to block her from progressing in her career because she stood up for herself and rebuffed him,” explained Baughn’s lawyer, Mary Shea Hagebols.

Choudhury did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

In an interview with ABC News’ David Wright last fall, Choudhury said, “Women in the world love me, because I take care of the women. … But yogi is supposed to be yogi.  They cannot involve with women.  And I did pretty good for all my life.”

Baughn first met Choudhury in the spring of 2005 when she attended his teacher training course in Los Angeles with 300 students.  She first regarded Choudhury as a hero who changed her life but claims that she then noticed he chose some women as favorites to brush his hair and massage his body.

During the course, Choudhury allegedly flirted with Baughn by telling her that they had known each other in a past life and that they had a strong, meaningful connection.  

The complaint claims that he asked her, “What should we do about this?  Should we make this a relationship?… I have never, never felt this way about anyone.  Only you.”

During this training, while Choudhury was, according to the complaint, “pretending to assist her, he pushed her down toward the floor after pulling her arm and leg apart and opening her body.  Defendant Bikram Choudhury then pressed his body into hers, and began whispering sexual things to her until she collapsed into sobs.”

Choudhury also allegedly pulled Baughn’s leg during a yoga posture, causing her to tear her hamstring.

Bikram yoga, which Choudhury started in the 1970s, is extremely popular and has more than 350 studios in the United States, plus hundreds throughout the world. Because of its popularity, Choudhury has a large fan base and frequently hosts seminars to hundreds of students.

This is not the first time the self-proclaimed “most respected living yoga guru in the world” has found himself in the midst of controversy.

In 2012, he sued former protégé and Yoga to the People founder Greg Gumucio for teaching his methods without permission. The Bikram franchise is a trademark with a copyrighted routine. At the time, Gumucio told Nightline, “Here you have this traditional knowledge that’s been around for 5,000 years. … It’s kind of like if Arnold Schwarzenegger said I’m going to do five bench presses, six curls, seven squats, call it ‘Arnold’s Work’ and nobody can show that or teach that without my permission. That’s crazy to me.”

The case ended in a settlement, and the two parties told Nightline that Yoga to the People, located in New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif.,  would no longer teach what is known as Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class.

Choudhury was also the subject of controversy in 2010, when then student Pandhora Williams claimed that Bikram made derogatory comments about women and homosexuals. Bikram has denied all wrongdoing, and the case is scheduled to go to trial April 29.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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