Bikram Sex Scandal: Founder Bikram Choudhury Accused Of Sexual Harassment By Former Student Sarah Baughn

 @TBarrabit.barrabi@ibtimes.com
on March 28 2013 9:38 AM
Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram yoga, stands accused of sexually harassing former student Sarah Baughn. Wikipedia

The founder of Bikram yoga is embroiled in a sex scandal, after a former student accused him of discrimination and sexual harassment.

Bikram Choudhury, the 67-year-old founder of the popular “hot yoga” franchise, stands accused of forcing his student to give him massages, brush his hair, and have sex with him.

Legal documents filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court allege that the student, 28-year-old Sarah Baughn, considered Choudhury to be her hero until his unwanted advances began in 2005, the New York Times reports.

Baughn, just 20-years-old at the time, claims that she first became uncomfortable when she observed other female students brushing Choudhury’s hair, washing his feet and giving him massages. At the time, she attributed the strange behaviors to cultural differences. Soon after, the famous guru attempted to give her a diamond Rolex watch, claiming that he had “known her in a past life.” According to the Times, Baughn refused the offer.

“What should we do about this?” Choudhury said, according to the lawsuit. “I have never felt this way about anyone,” he added. “Should we make this a relationship?”

According to the New York Times, Choudhury started his first yoga studio in the early 1970s, after emigrating from Calcutta, India, to Beverly Hills, Calif. The former Indian national yoga champion slept in the studio, offering free classes while accepting donations. The Times claims that Choudhury didn’t start turning a profit until receiving a crucial piece of advice from Shirley MacLaine, a former student.

“She said no American respects anything that’s free,” Choudhury said at the 2012 Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup, a yoga competition named after his mentor.

Nowadays, the legendary yoga instructor charges $25 per class across hundreds of studios, earning the moniker “Yoga’s Bad Boy” from Yoga Journal, the New York Times reports. His personalized yoga system, which takes place in a 105-degree room, enjoys a cult following among the pastime’s practitioners.

Initially, Baughn was one of the guru’s most loyal followers. “Sarah dropped out of college to study with Bikram, and every penny she had went to him,” said Mary Shea Hagebols, Ms. Baughn’s attorney, the NY Times reports. “She was a true believer and student.”

Despite her respect for her instructor, Baughn claims to have snubbed Choudhury’s advances, even attempting to redirect him back to his wife, the founder of USA Yoga. According to court documents, Choudhury stands accused of inappropriate contact while adjusting Baughn’s posture, making sexually charged comments, ordering her to kiss him while other trainees were around, and assaulting her in a Acapulco, Mexico, hotel room.

Baughn's suit alleges that Choudhury "pinned her against the door, and sexually assaulted her by kissing her neck, chest, and face, and grinding his penis against her leg" during the hotel room assault, Gawker reports.

While Baughn’s lawyer declined to mention whether her client had previously reported the alleged crimes, she claims that Baughn did speak with the teacher at Los Angeles’ Yoga College of India. “Sarah wants whatever justice the jury decides so that this never happens again — that’s her primary goal,” Ms. Hagebols said.

According to the New York Times, Baughn’s attempts to report Choudhury’s behavior were largely dismissed. Allegedly, the senior teachers told Baughn that her assaulter was “innocent, like a child,” and that successful men were often aggressive.

Ms. Baughn claims that her massive financial investment in her teacher trainings, which can cost $11,000, contributed to her decision to continue working with Choudhury. Her lawsuit also accuses the scorned Choudhury of attempting to damage her career.

This is hardly the first time that a fitness instructor has been accused of sexual harassment. In February, Zumba instructor Alexis Wright was accused of attempting to solicit a pizza delivery man for sex. According to the New York Daily News, the delivery man was dropping off Wright's order of spaghetti and meatballs when she opened the door wearing only a towel. She then dropped the towel and attempted to seduce him.

Wright, the owner of the Pura Vida fitness studio in Maine, stands accused of prostitution after engaging in sexual relations with over 150 clients. According to the Associated Press, local police claim to have more than 14,000 screenshots of Wright's illicit activities.

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