Bikram Choudhury is on the lam after a sexual harassment lawsuit has put his hot yoga empire on the line. The Associated Press reports that an arrest warrant has been issued for Choudhury in California, and he’s been ordered to pay $6.8 million to his former legal adviser Minakshi “Micki” Jafa-Bodden. Where Choudhury is hiding isn’t exactly clear, although he’s fled the country. His warehouses in Nevada and Florida are locked by court order, and he’s apparently being tracked down by his attempts to move luxury property overseas.
The link between sex and Bikram Yoga’s founder are nothing new. He’s long lead a glamorous lifestyle, teaching some of the most beautiful people on the planet. As the Guardian reports, Choudhury has had celebrity clients in enviable locals since the 1970s, when he taught the likes of “Michael Jackson, Jeff Bridges, Shirley MacLaine, Barbra Streisand and Raquel Welch.” According to the Guardian, Benjamin Lorr — who wrote a book on Choudhury in 2012 — chalked much of the guru’s success up to his charisma, and even compared the Bikram founder’s “unscripted responsiveness” to that of Donald Trump.
In 2011, at the height of hot yoga fever, GQ did a profile on Choudhury’s San Diego teacher training course, describing a scene where lithe yogis strip down to their Speedos at a resort which “throbs with the libidinal energy,” as Choudhury barks aggressive, lewd comments to the crowd. Erections and hookups apparently abounded. Numerous profiles describe women brushing their guru’s hair and providing him massages at these events.
Even so, Choudhury himself insists that sex and yoga don’t mix. It isn’t that he doesn’t notice the beautiful women — he once told ABC “Nightline, “Every women loves me. You know, president’s daughter, you know, prime minister’s daughter, you know, billionaire’s daughter, super star, actress, singers. The hardest problem in my life … is to stay away from women.” But according to Choudhury, he’s stayed true to his spiritual path. “Yogi is supposed to be yogi,” he told “Nightline.” “They cannot involve with the women.”
Except that there are numerous plaintiffs who tell a different story.
In 2014, Vanity Fair told the stories of five women who filed against Choudhury that year, the charges levied including sexual harassment and rape. Their accounts of Choudhury’s inappropriate behavior have a common themes of repeated unwanted advances, Choudhury complaining about his wife, insisting that he needed his students’ love, and that they needed him to be great. They describe being tricked into being alone with Choudhury, groping, and forced sexual encounters.
Many of the plaintiffs say they were afraid to leave the training sessions — which cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 for nine weeks — because of the money and time they’d invested, according to Vanity Fair. Others were afraid their careers in yoga would be affected, or were allegedly told by staffers that “We all know how Bikram is, that’s just part of it.”
The Washington Post reports that one of those lawsuits ended in a private settlement, and the rest will have their day in the courtroom later in 2017. But those cases did directly lead to the suit for which he now owes $6.8 million. Jafa-Bodden, once Choudhury’s legal counsel, says she was fired for refusing to help Choudhury cover up one plaintiff’s rape allegation, the AP reports.
Jafa-Bodden was also subjected to sexual harassment, unwanted touching, pressure to spend the night with Choudhury, and sexist and racist comments, according to the Post. The LA Times reports Jafa-Bodden said she feels “vindicated” for standing up to “dangerous, dangerous predator.” One of the plaintiffs called her “a warrior for women.”
Ironically, it seems Choudhury’s own words have come to bear as he flees the cost of damages and an $8 million bail. Last year he told ABC “Nightline,” “I have to run, city after city, country after country, all my life to stay away from the women.” Not quite. But he is running from what he owes one them.