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Yogi, Guru, Predator’ Netflix Doc is Now
The new Netflix documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator recounts horrific allegations sexual assault and other forms of abuse against Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the popular, eponymous form of hot yoga. Choudhury became incredibly successful in the early 2000s thanks to yoga teaching sessions which were required to get accreditation to open a Bikram yoga studio, of which there are now tens of thousands.
The nine-week sessions, which took place at hotels, cost up to $10,000. In the documentary, women attendees allege that a range of abuses happened at these trainings. Sarah Baughn says that Choudhury invited her to his hotel room during a nine-week training session, where, she alleges, he tried to force himself on her. She later brought a civil case against Choudhury which was settled. And in 2016, he was ordered to pay nearly $6.5 million in a lawsuit saying he’d sexually harassed and wrongfully fired an advisor after she began investigating sexual abuse claims from other women.
The attendees say in the documentary that they couldn’t speak up about the abuse because their livelihoods depended on accreditation of their yoga studios, which Choudhury controlled.
Choudhury has previously denied allegations he has sexually assaulted anyone, and his spokesperson says Choudhury has sent a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings saying, “I strongly urge you to consider immediately withdrawing the Netflix smear documentary.”
The final moments of the documentary reveal that, in spite of the allegations, Choudhury had still been conducting teacher trainings as recently as this year. The documentary shows him teaching in Spain and Mexico, and posed under a banner which reads “Bikram Yoga Teacher Training Fall 2018.”
Bikram Choudhury’s spokerson, Richard J. Hillgrove wrote to Esquire by email: “Since being in Chapter 11, Bikram has not been engaged in organising any teacher training. He has however agreed to make personal appearances.” Choudhury filed for bankruptcy in 2017 because of more than $16 million of debt following years of sexual harassment lawsuits, according to The Telegraph. Media reports about the lawsuits, the first of which were filed in 2013, and bankruptcy all point out that Choudhury had left the U.S. and his whereabouts have been unknown.
But Choudhury is planning an extensive “Bikram’s Legacy Tour of India 2020” which will take place in seven cities over 15 days in January and February for up to $3,950 per person, for which Choudhury will receive an undisclosed fee. Though a video touting the event advertises “hot yoga classes, worships and training,” Choudhury’s spokesperson insists “the India legacy tour has nothing to do with training or teacher training.”
“It is deeply disturbing to us that people continue to attend, and studios continue to send students to, Bikram Choudhury’s yoga teacher training,” Mary Shea, the attorney representing several people who filed suit against Choudhury alleging rape, sexual assault and other abuses, tells Esquire in an email. “Bikram Yoga teacher training is the arena where the grooming occurs and many of the abuses took place. Vulnerable women are broken down and made prey … This is a matter of international concern now that he has fled the USA.”
Shea adds, “One might argue that to support his brand ‘Bikram Yoga’ is to support the abuse. You can not separate the man from the yoga.”
Senior Staff Writer
Kate is a writer for Esquire covering culture, politics, style, and lifestyle.