Bikram Choudhury: Life & Unraveling Of The Founder Of Bikram Yoga 

Bikram Choudhury is an Indian-American Yoga Master. He is considered to be one of the most influential yoga teachers of our time. 

Choudhury developed a unique yoga series and founded Bikram Yoga. The hot yoga classes became a sensation in the United States and Western world. 

The massive interest in Bikram Yoga developed into a loyal cult-like following. Let’s get to know Choudhury more intimately and the empire that brought him worldwide fame. The same empire that crumbled over a foundation of lies, manipulation, and abuse. 


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Bikram Choudhury was born in Kolkata, India, on February 10, 1946. When he was a teen, he experienced an injury while lifting heavy weights. 

Due to his injury, he then began to study Yoga under Guru Bishnu Charan Ghosh. Choudhury learned Hatha and Raj Yoga under Ghosh. He was astonished with how the practice of yoga healed his leg injury.

Choudhury taught yoga at the young age of 17. He created his own unique yoga method and opened Bikram Yoga College in India. 

These classes are a series of 26 fixed postures (asanas) performed in a specific order. Some postures include Tree Pose (Vrksasana), Eagle Pose (Garudasana), Locust Pose (Salabhasana), Bow Pose (Dhanurasana), Corpse Pose (Savasana), and more. 

Bikram is a hot yoga method designed to reap maximum physical and mental benefits. It is practiced in a setting of about 105 degrees F (40 degrees C) and 40% humidity. The heat imitates that of India and helps to stretch the muscles and remove toxins from the body. 

Choudhury journeyed to the U.S. in the 1970’s. He started by teaching in a basement in San Francisco in 1973. The following year, he opened his first yoga studio in Los Angeles.

This style began to spread like wildfire across the country. Choudhury went on to open 650 yoga studios in the U.S. alone. He built a $100 million empire.

Choudhury was named one of the “100 Most Influential People” by Time Magazine in 2006. He even cultivated a celebrity following. Some celebrities who have practiced Bikram include Madonna, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, and David Beckham. He claimed that his first-ever celebrity student was Elvis Presley. 

Choudhury even taught former U.S. Presidents. Some include Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. 

He inspired thousands of students and trained thousands of teachers. In 1990, Choudhury evolved his offerings by inviting students to participate in 9-week courses. The courses involved the participants staying at the hotels that hosted the classes.

He bought more opulent possessions as he monetized off of his studios, classes, and workshops. Choudhury curated a “Beverly Hills Yogi” image. He possessed luxury cars and homes. He was also known for wearing nothing but a Speedo and Rolex while he taught class. 

He would open his 90-minute classes by saying, “Welcome to Bikram’s torture chamber.” While students held their postures, he would poke fun and draw attention to their appearance.  

He cultivated a cult-like setting for his students. Practitioners were drawn to his style of teaching simply for the thrill of being pushed to their limits. Some would vomit or faint in classes due to his unhealthy extremities–such as no bathroom breaks. 

As a certified yoga teacher, I was never drawn to the intensities of Bikram Yoga. I found the method to instill a sense of competitiveness versus connectedness. 

Choudhury also cultivated a culture of silence within his staff. They protected him and allowed him to go unpunished for his toxic behavior for the sake of his yoga empire. 

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Thousands of instructors trained under Choudhury and opened up Bikram Yoga studios all over the world. In 2011, he filed a lawsuit against Yoga to the People–a rival studio founded by a former student. 

Choudhury claimed that his series of fixed yoga postures were under copyright in 2002. The United States Copyright Office clarified that he could not copyright yoga poses. 

2013 was the year of the unraveling of Choudhury, his reputation, and his empire. Former students came forward with allegations of sexual assault, rape, and maniac control. In the following year, five women had filed lawsuits against Choudhury.

Bikram Choudhury denied all rape allegations made against him. However, two years later, his wife Rajashree Choudhury filed for divorce and they are now separated.

The two were wed in 1984. Rajashree Choudhury practiced yoga in India as a young girl. She grew up to be a top global yoga instructor, winning many competitions in India, where the two had met. Marrying Rajashree made them the “Yoga Power Couple.”

Rajashree Choudhury made major contributions to the world of yoga. She assisted in building his empire and co-founded the International Yoga Sports Federation as well as the United States Yoga Federation.

Rajashree Choudhury still lives in the United States in her family home in Beverly Hills. She continues to teach yoga, dedicates time to her charity work, and runs her jewelry line business. 

In 2019, Netflix released a documentary titled Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator. Jill Lawler, the 6th woman to sue Choudhury in the state of California, spoke in the documentary. 

She described in detail how the yoga master would invite his favorite students to his hotel room. During his teacher trainings, he would have these students massage his feet in his room. After three hours to the point of fatigue, he escalated to unwanted physical advances. 

In 2023, Lawler was able to achieve some vindication in her case after eight long years. “While this is a victory for all sexual assault victims and the many, many women who have suffered at the hands of Bikram Choudhury, Jill will never be made whole even if we are able to collect a part of the monies owed,” stated her attorney Carney Shegerian.  

In 2016, court orders were found in favor of Minakshi Jafa-Bodden. She is the first woman to win a lawsuit against him. 

Jafa-Bodden was Choudhury’s former legal adviser. She sued him for wrongful termination of employment and sexual harassment. He was ordered to pay her money owed of $7 million. 

Bikram Choudhury did not pay any of the $7 million.  Choudhury abandoned his life in Beverly Hills and fled to India where he lives now as a fugitive of the U.S. to avoid the criminal charges and lawsuits. However, he continues to open up studios in India, Thailand, Spain, and Mexico. 

Currently, Choudhury continues to lead yoga teacher trainings in India, Thailand, and Mexico. There is a highly-anticipated Bikram Yoga Teacher Training announced for Spring 2024. All visitors are welcome to join in a 9-week training set in Thailand. 

The Bikram community was left devastated. His yoga method changed thousands of lives, improving their mental and physical health. Many of his students even made the pilgrimage to his Bikram Yoga College in India. 

The yoga community had a brutal wake-up call as it was exposed. Yoga Journal even came out with a great piece on him called Yoga's Bad Boy: Bikram Choudhury that's worth a read. For the sake of the practice, the community had allowed abusive gurus, such as Choudhury, to thrive.  

Despite the serious controversies, Bikram Yoga remains popular for its methodology. Third parties have taken it upon themselves to organize events on Chuodhury’s behalf. 

Choudhury was scheduled to travel to Vancouver in 2023. He had agreed to instruct 7 classes and lectures for the Canada Yoga Sports Federation. 

Thanks to change.org, the petition put an end to his occupation in Canadian territory. The Canada Yoga Sports Federation made an announcement stating that his visit to Vancouver would be rescheduled due to “scheduling conflicts.” 

On the other hand, many studios have removed “Bikram” from their names entirely. They simply replaced it with “Hot Yoga” to avoid association with the founder. Thousands of practitioners have turned to other forms of yoga for practice.

The yoga community has changed tremendously since Choudhury’s downfall. With hard lessons learned, the community has done its part to bring to light other teachers and gurus. Kausthub Desikachar, Amrit Desai, and Swami Rama all have allegations of abuse. 

Bikram Choudhury left his mark on the entire world. He trained thousands of yoga teachers and influenced millions of yoga practitioners. His hot yoga method spread like wildfire in the Western world for its popular benefits to the body and mind. 

Manipulation and abuse led to the downfall of his yoga empire. With that, he tarnished the reputation of the yoga community. As a 200-hour certified yoga instructor, I could not help but feel disappointed. 

There are thousands of devoted yoga teachers, myself included. We are respectful professionals dedicated to our practice and our students. 

There are cases of sexual battery, however, they are rare in the yoga community. If you are a victim of sexual assault in or out of a yoga classroom, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline. They are available 24 hours a day and offer support and resources. Call 1-800-656-4673 or chat confidentially online at online.raiin.org. 

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Claudicet
Claudicet

Claudicet is a Certified Yoga Teacher. In 2017 she was voted the “Best Yoga Teacher” in Atlanta by Best Self Atlanta Magazine. She has been trained and certified with Life Power Yoga, Alanna Kaivalya Method, and CorePower Yoga. Claudicet is grateful for the gift of yoga. The practice helped her discover a profound connection to her true nature. In turn, she has been able to guide and inspire her students on their journeys of healing, love, and connection. She is passionate about encouraging others to prioritize their well-being and create a lifestyle that they love. Claudicet can be reached at claudicetp@theyogatique.com, or you can connect with Claudicet on LinkedIn.

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