In March of 2013 the yoga world was dismayed by the ?ling of a lawsuit accusing Bikram Choudhury of sexually assaulting a young woman, Sarah Baughan, at teacher training.
The sad part, the most grievous aspect of this seedy and unfortunate story is that Bikram’s exploitation of young girls during teacher training was a ”known secret” to those close to him, and indeed to many who attended the training year after year.
But, known secret or not nobody stopped him, nobody got in the way, nobody reported him.
It kept on going on in what was described as ”The Overheated, Oversexed Cult of Bikram Choudhury” ¹ until one of these young girls became brave enough to go to a lawyer who ?led a lawsuit. At that point, not only did those at teacher training know the ”known secret”, but so did the world.
Quickly following the March 2013 news that Bikram had been accused of sexual assault, a few brave studio owners disaf?liated themselves from Bikram, changing the name of their studios from ”Bikram” to take a stand against the type of violence to women that the lawsuit represented.
The HotYoga4You studios were among this vanguard, taking action on March 22, 2013, removing all ”Bikram” branding and mention of the ”Bikram” name from its studios, less than a month after the ?rst lawsuit was ?led. ²
That ?rst lawsuit, for sexual harassment, was quickly followed by two more, claiming rape, which was then followed by more rape lawsuits, until the present day. When the most recent lawsuit alleging rape was ?led in February of 2015, it brought the grand total to 6 lawsuits against Bikram Choudhry.
In response, and as a preemptive strike against studio owners and yoga teachers who might be thinking about taking a moral stand, Bikram spammed the yoga world with emailed threat letters, threatening to retaliate against any teacher who dared to teach at a studio that was not Bikram branded. And the November 19, 2013 email is quoted below:
”Teachers who are teaching at illegal, unaf?liated, copy cat studios or teaching shorter classes will have their Bikram Yoga teaching certi?ca- tion revoked and may face legal action for copyright violation.”
Yet most of the brave teachers, faced with threats of ”revocation” of their teaching certi?cates, and the threatened ”legal action,” did not give in to this intimidation. Some did give in, but most stood their ground, and did not allow Bikram to dictate to them where and how they would be able to teach yoga. After all, yoga belongs not to Bikram Choudhury, but to the world. (The U.S. Copyright Of?ce and Federal Judge Otis Wright both agreed. Yoga cannot be copyrighted. ³ )
Now, about two years later, with yet another rape lawsuit ?led, some more studios have woken up, realized exactly what the Bikram brand now stands for, and disaf?liated themselves. An example of this new realization is that of Elizabeth Winfeld who was quoted on Yogadork.com:
” I think the Bikram community on the whole is reaching a tipping point, and I hope one day they all realize they should not have the name of a rapist on their door…anymore than they should call their business after Hitler. I’m happy to see studios slowly stepping away from the fear, control and dogma of Bikram, and offering additional services and becoming more trained as teachers.”?
Yet other studios have kept the ”Bikram Brand” but spoken up against Bikram Choudhury’s abuse of the young women who trusted him as their teacher. And this is another type of bravery.
And it is important to morally separate the studios who are currently supporting Bikram Choudhury, those with a current Franchise Agreement, and who pay franchise fees, from the earlier established studios. After all it is an obscenity to the peace, harmony and beauty of yoga to ?nancially support Bikram Choudhury, of paying monetary tribute to a man who has been acknowledged to be a sexual predator. Most of the earlier studios, whose agreement with the Bikram organization was made prior to 2009, simply use the Bikram name.
¹http://www.details.com/culture-trends/critical-eye/201102/yoga-guru-bikram-choudhuryretrieved February 26, 2015
²http://www.hotyoga4youny.com/668438/2013/03/22/big-studio-changes.html?source=facebook retrieved February 26, 2015
?http://yogadork.com/2014/03/04/bikram-studio-owners-teachers-respond-to-rape-charges/retrieved on February 26, 2015.