Women who accused Bikram yoga founder of rape speak out against the millionaire 'guru' after 'he forced one victim into a yoga pose during an attack'

© Daily Mail | By LOUISE BOYLE on 6 December 2013

Sarah Baughn (pictured left) and Larissa Anderson are among five women who have sued Bikram Choudhury amid allegations of rape and sexual harassment
(Sarah Baughn is among five women who have sued Bikram Choudhury amid allegations of rape and sexual harassment)

Women who claim the founder of wildly popular Bikram yoga raped and sexually assaulted them have revealed how they were attacked during intense retreats where they witnessed sordid massages, sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

Bikram Choudhury, 67, runs an international 'hot yoga' chain with a stream of devoted celebrity followers including George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow.

However in the past year, he has been accused of raping, assaulting or sexually harassing four women who attended his classes amid other claims including racism and threats of violence in multiple lawsuits.

Bikram yoga is based on regular yoga but performed in 100F heat and sweltering, 40 per cent humidity which Choudhury says mimics his native Calcutta. Devotees extol the virtues of the extreme workout and meditative, spiritual healing with a near religious zeal.

Bikram Choudhury, 67, leader of the Bikram hot yoga movement, outside of one of his wildly popular yoga classes in San Diego, 2010. He has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by former students
(Bikram Choudhury, 67, leader of the Bikram hot yoga movement, outside of one of his wildly popular yoga classes in San Diego, 2010. He has been accused of sexual harassment and rape by some female students)

A Vanity Fair exposé, published in the January issue out this week, reveals a more sordid side to the uber-successful, multimillionaire Choudhury, who presents himself to Bikram followers in a guru-like fashion.

Many of the alleged rapes or sexual attacks happened at Bikram's bi-annual, nine-week retreats, where those who wish to teach the special branch of yoga must pay $11,400 to learn from the master himself.

MailOnline reached out to Bikram Choudhury today through multiple calls and emails to his press office but received no comment on the allegations made against him.

Sarah Baughn, 29, alleges Choudhury sexually harassed her and then sabotaged her career as a yoga teacher when she turned down his advances in a lawsuit filed in March.

She took her first yoga class in 2004 while she attended college in Washington state and became enthralled with the practice which she credits with healing her scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

She dropped out of college and became dedicated to becoming a yoga teacher. She met Choudhry at a training retreat soon after.

Miss Baughn claims that he began making advances towards her, complimenting her yoga positions and kissing her on the cheek, telling her he had 'never felt like this about anyone', according to the Vanity Fair article.

She approached senior staff to complain whom she claims told her to 'separate the man from the teacher' and not to tell Choudhury's wife.

Miss Baughn, a skilled yoga practitioner who won national championships, said during another training camp in 2008 where she helped teach, she found herself alone with Choudhury.

He insisted staff stay up late to watch Bollywood movies, a common evening activity at his retreats.

That night, Miss Baughn fell asleep and woke up to find other staff leaving when she says she had asked that no one leave her alone with the yoga teacher.

She told Vanity Fair: 'I grabbed my shoes and the door went click. I remember the click.

'And then I ran to the door, because I thought, Oh s***, they weren't supposed to leave me. And when I got to the door, he was on me. He was all over me.'

Miss Baughn said that Choudhury rubbed his penis against her but she managed to get the door open and escape.

Following the incident, Miss Baughn says that she was not allowed to teach advanced seminars and studios were discouraged from hiring her.

Once Miss Baughn came forward, other female yoga students spoke up about alleged attacks.

Larissa Anderson, 22, got into yoga through her boyfriend and became close to the Choudhury family.

When her boyfriend and the yoga leader had a falling out, she was reportedly told to pick her loyalties by Choudhury.

Although briefly leaving the Bikram yoga movement, she felt adrift and returned, often having dinner with the family.

One night, after his wife Rajashree went to bed, Miss Anderson claims that Choudhury started kissing her to which she protested.

He kept at her and raped her. According to Vanity Fair, Miss Anderson's lawsuit reads: 'Larissa could not find her voice to cry out for help... Defendant forcefully spread Larissa's legs apart and ejaculated. It did not last long.'

Anderson remained in the yoga community because she felt like 'her life would be over' if she left.

She alleges that in 2011, Choudhury asked her to massage him and she obliged but he asked her to massage higher and higher up his leg. He then pressed himself against her and asked her to sleep with him.

She managed to escape. Following the alleged incident, Choudhury would not list her studio on his website. According to her lawsuit, she now suffers from 'PTSD, anxiety and depression'.

Jane Doe 1 and 2 filed lawsuits against Choudhury last May in an LA court, where they accuse Choudhury and Bikram Yoga College of India of sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment and other counts.

In the case of Jane Doe 1, she alleges that during her teacher training in 2011, Choudhury attacked her in his hotel suite which she had been ordered to clean.

She claims that he pulled her pants off, forced her to perform oral sex before raping her while she pleaded with him to stop.

He even manipulated her legs into a yoga pose and laughed at her during the attack, the lawsuit claims.

Jane Doe 2 says that she went to Choudhury's room during one of the 2010 yoga retreats to discuss a business opportunity but soon realized her mistake.

She alleges in her lawsuit that he grabbed her pants, pushed her to the bed and raped her.

She said that she thought about going to the police but was convinced into staying at the expensive retreat, which her boyfriend paid for as a gift, by her roommate.

She washed the jeans she was wearing during the attack. She told Vanity Fair: 'I wish I had saved them.'

Questions have been raised as to why the women kept returning to the Bikram yoga community following the alleged assaults.

A Bikram teacher in Maryland, who attended training with Miss Baughn, remembers the young woman being upset about Choudhury's advances but told Vanity Fair: 'I don't mean to discount terrible things that happened, 'cause I do think he did things that he shouldn't, but a lot of women will use what they have to get what they want, and not admit it.

'What did you think would happen in his hotel room? You think he was going to help you with with your standing-bow pose?'

The rape allegations join multiple lawsuits against Choudhury of racism, misogyny, sexual harassment, homophobia and threats of violence.

Choudhury is also being sued by his former legal adviser Minakshi Jaffa-Bodden who claims in papers filed on June 13 that he threatened to have her and her eight-year-old daughter deported.

Jaffa-Bodden is being represented by Carla Minnard, a civil rights attorney, who says her client was one of the few to stand up to Choudhury and as a result, was forced by the yogi to resign.

According to Jaffa-Bodden's suit, Choudhury then unlawfully took possession of her company car and evicted her and her daughter from the home the company had provided for her.

Finally, Choudhury himself threatened to challenge Jaffa-Bodden's green card application.

'There’s a great desire to keep Bikram’s conduct in the dark,' Ms Minnard told The Huffington Post at the time. 'It shows an inability by anyone to restrain an individual who is a dangerous person.'

Jaffa-Bodden was working at Choudhury's LA-based Yoga College of India when she was made aware of allegations of sexual assaults that took place during Choudhury's training conferences.

According to the Huffington Post, when Jaffa-Bodden attempted to investigate the alleged assaults, she was told it would be 'best' that she 'not look into it any further'.

When she ignored this advice, she was subject to intimidation by Choudhury and other employees.

Finally, she says, she was forced to sign a letter of resignation in March 2013 under the threat of what she inferred to be physical violence from Bikram Choudhury.

Ms Jaffa-Bodden believes it was her vocal objection to Choudhury's behavior that resulted in her forced resignation.

She believes this was punishment for her objections to Choudhury’s conduct. Jaffa-Bodden's suit alleges the yoga school's environment was one of rampant misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexual harassment and threats of violence.

'She did try to stop what she felt was illegal, immoral conduct,' Ms Minnard told The Huffington Post.

'They threatened to have her and her eight-year-old daughter deported.'

The suit alleges Choudhury, who has likened himself to Superman and Buddha, was racist, homophobic and misogynistic.

Jaffa-Bodden alleges Choudhury referred to female employees and other women as 'bitches' and was blatantly homophobic.

'AIDS is caused by gays, it is the truth, but these f****** ***hole guys love me, they love Bikram,' he is reported to have said.

The suit also claims that Choudhury treated African-American students differently than others, saying, 'these blacks just don’t get my yoga'.

Giving credence to Jaffa-Bodden's claims are two cases brought against Bikram Choudhury alleging rape, sexual harassment and human trafficking in May.

According to those suits, Choudhury has 'a propensity to sexually assault young women'.

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