Netflix's 'Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator': How the disgraced yoga guru created a hyper-sexualized, degrading environment for women

His disciples, who had a cult-ish devotion to him, accepted their yoga guru's blatant abuse and even acquiesced to his demands of late-night massages.


                            Netflix's 'Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator': How the disgraced yoga guru created a hyper-sexualized, degrading environment for women

A young charismatic Indian man, Bikram Choudhury, changed the face of yoga in America in the 1970s. Choudhury, with his distinct and grueling style of the ancient practice, earned a name amongst celebrities, counting stars like Elvis Presley, Shirley Maclaine, George Harrison, and even President Richard Nixon among his clients.

With extensive media exposure, Choudhury created a bad boy image for himself and spun tales of winning nonexistent yoga championships and purported health benefits of "hot yoga" which remained unquestioned at the time.

Choudhury, with enough recognition to go by, opened his own yoga studio and began offering $10,000 teacher training to the masses. His classes, however, were not what you would expect a typical yoga class to be. The massive auditorium with dozens of reverent disciples clinging to his every single instruction was vaguely reminiscent of the Rajneesh cult of the spiritual teacher Osho.

Through his classes, Choudhury had elevated himself to a godlike figure whose actions went unquestioned and unchallenged. His followers saw a father figure in him, and many believed he had changed their lives and bodies for the better with his trademark "Bikram Yoga."

His following and centers began expanding exponentially, making him the richest yoga guru in the world. However, that period is also when the red flags began showing. Netflix documentary 'Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator,' through a series of interviews of his students, details the months of unchecked abuse by the yoga guru who had become a predator.

Clad in just a black Speedo and a Rolex, Choudhury verbally attacked his students in class and then broke into melodious songs. His disciples, who had a cult-ish devotion to him, accepted their yoga guru's blatant abuse and even acquiesced to his demands of late-night massages. Sarah Baughn, Choudhury's student who completed her teacher training with him, was the first victim to publicly come forward, accusing him of sexual assault.

Students practice the unique Bikram Yoga at the City Studio, on March 13, 2007 in London, England. The Bikram Yoga, also known as Hot Yoga, is a style of yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury and is done in a room heated to 105?F (40.5?C) (Getty Images)

Baugh was midway through her training when the yoga guru first made his advances. She was called into his office where he asked her what were they going to do about their relationship.

The 20-something Baughn had no idea what he was talking about. Later that day in class, he placed her in standing bow pose in an entire room full of students and pulled on her leg, pushing her heart towards the floor. Choudhury then pushed his hips into Baughn as she stood vulnerable, and continued whispering in her ear, asking what should they do about their relationship. The unwarranted advances turned to abuse. 

Baughn filed a lawsuit against Choudhury in 2014, alleging that he trapped her in his hotel room and forcibly attempted to initiate sex. Her public declaration resulted in floodgates being opened from other victims. They all had feared ostracism in the hot yoga community. Another student, Larissa Anderson, in the documentary, detailed how she was raped by Choudhury in his home while his wife and children were sleeping under the same roof. 

Choudhury's first major lawsuit came from his former employee Micki Jafa-Bodden who sued him for unlawful termination after she began probing his predatory behavior towards his students.

“Bikram Choudhury created a hyper-sexualized, offensive and degrading environment for women by, among other things, demanding that female staffers brush his hair and give him massages," Bodden said in her 2013 lawsuit.

He lost a $7.5 million civil lawsuit to Jafa-Bodden in 2016 and fled the United States, becoming a fugitive from the law. He has yet to pay Jafa-Bodden and has not faced any criminal charges.

Choudhury's story, however, is not yet over. He has continued to open centers in India and advertise for his teacher training classes, with the most recent being in Mexico, just a few hundred miles away from some of his victims. 

'Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator' is streaming on Netflix now.

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