There's unrest brewing in the world of yoga. If you watched ABC's Nightline last week or read Benjamin Wallace's story in Vanity Fair last month, Bikram Choudhury, the eponymous Guru that helped transform the bodies of housewives and college grads with liberal arts degrees, is under pressure. Like the pressure in his tight black shorts.
Bikram Choudhury is a God to those who practice yoga. He's the Julia Child of it all. There's an idolatry associated with him. It's almost a religion -- rather a cult. And he is the leader.
My only interest in yoga is what you'd think it would be from a young, superficial male, I'll be honest. But lately, I have been forced to take an interest in Bikram, the man, because in a few weeks a member of my family will be traveling to L.A. to take his $15,000.00 seminar to become a Bikram instructor. Ya. I know. Accommodations are amazing though -- 12 weeks sleeping at LAX.
In the Nightline segment, which took a year to investigate, David Wright introduced us to some of the victims. All young, attractive women. I might interject here and say that one of the criteria for acceptance into the Bikram seminar (aside from the $15,000.00) is to send pictures of yourself posing in various yoga positions. I don't know, having a massive manila envelope full of people contorting their bodies in sexual suggestive positions rubs me the wrong way -- pun intended.
One of the victims that came forward in last night's story (and from Wallace's Vanity Fair story), Sarah Baughn, explains how Bikram "victimizes women."
"He put his hands on my leg and my arm, and pulled them apart. He then started whispering things in my ear that no one else could hear. Don't you love me? Come to L.A. Come be with me."
If you don't know what Bikram is, it's essentially yoga in a sauna. And that's my expert description. Just do yoga in a room and turn the heat up to about 110°. Fun, right? Apparently it is because Bikram has made tens of millions of dollars from it -- living in an 8,000 square foot mansion in Beverly Hills. His car collection make the super-rich envious, complete with Bentleys and rare Rolls Royces. He also has "balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 mega-tons each."
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Bikram is Larissa Anderson, one of a select few instructors close enough to Bikram to be in his entourage, whatever that means. I didn't know Gurus have entourages. Below is an excerpt fromNightline.
"The young woman who want to believe in something so badly, he sees it. And those are the people that he targets. Because they're vulnerable."
"He raped me. We were watching a movie and he grabbed the back of my head and he kissed me. And I pulled away, and I said, I don't -- this isn't -- I felt speechless. Because this was my Guru, and I thought of him as a father figure. And he stood up and he grabbed my hand and he sat me down on the couch and he pulled up my skirt and pulled down my underwear, pulled his boxer shorts down, and had sex with me. And I had said no."
Wright: He raped you.
Wright: In his own house?
Wright: With his wife sleeping upstairs.
"Correct... and his son. It didn't last very long. He didn't use protection."
In a lawsuit filed in May 2013, another plaintiff, known only has Jane Doe 2, who alleges that she was raped three times by Choudhury, describes one of the instances.
"Let's go up to my room," he said. "We can talk about it there." As Jane looked concerned, Choudhury hastened to add, "Don't worry, we won't be alone." Trusting that he was going to tell her about a career opportunity, she went with him, but as soon as they entered his room, she realized her mistake. They were alone. "I can't stay here," she said. "I need to leave!"
She says she started to walk out, but Choudhury began crying and begging her to "save" him: "I am all alone. I need someone to love me. I need someone to touch me with love." His wife, Rajashree, was "mean," he said, and "hates me." Jane protested that she had a boyfriend, but Choudhury allegedly said, "I need to spiritually enlighten you. In order to do that, we need to become one." She says he grabbed her pants, pulled them down, and forced her onto the bed.
As Jane was crying and pleading for Choudhury to stop, he "forced his unprotected penis in her vagina," according to her legal complaint. "Within moments it was over. The only thing Defendant Bikram Choudhury said was 'How many times did you come?'" Jane says he ordered her to watch him fall asleep, and as soon as he did, she fled the room, numb and uncertain as to what to do or whom to turn to. She told me she thought about going to the police and giving them her jeans and telling them what had happened, but her roommate calmed her down and convinced her to stay at the training. "I wish I hadn't washed them," she says today of the jeans. "I wish I had saved them."
Choudhury has repeatedly denied all of the allegations of sexual assault and rape, and when asked by ABC for comment, Bikram denied to be interviewed, but through an email his publicist denied all allegations.
Whether or not you practice yoga or know anything about Choudhury or the culture of yoga, it's an interesting story, and I encourage you to read it.
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