Trigger warning: this video and the text below contain accounts of rape and sexual assault.
On last night’s “Nightline,” three of Bikram Choudhury’s five sexual assault accusers bravely came forward to talk about the horrors they suffered at the hands of the yoga guru. Honestly, I had read about the charges, but the first-hand accounts were far more disturbing than I imagined. As a newly minted yoga teacher and a long-time yogi, these women’s stories rocked me to the core. To think of a practice that has been such a positive influence in my life being perverted by the most disgusting form of victimization is gut wrenching. As Sarah Baughn, the first woman to come forth in the media with her charges, says, “My daughter one day looked at me and said…’Mommy I want to be just like you. I want to be a yoga teacher.’ And all I could think was, ‘You can’t do that. You’ll get raped.’”
Baughn cites many incidents of being groped and propositioned by Bikram, beginning with her time in his teacher training program. When she reported the guru’s inappropriate advances to a staff member, she was told, “He may not be avery good man, but he’s a very good teacher.”
While preparing for the Asana championships, Baughn claims she visited Bikram’s home to practice. She alleges that he told her that the only way she would ever win the yoga competition would be to have sex with him. She declined and escaped. “No one is entitled to anyone’s body,” said Baughn. Still, she considers herself lucky that she narrowly escaped being raped by him.
Going public for the first time, Larissa Anderson, claims Bikram raped her in his living room while his wife and children were asleep upstairs. Also speaking out is a woman going by the name of Jane Doe #3 who alleges Bikram raped her three times — the first time during her yoga teacher training for which she received a scholarship.
“I was on my knees. Culturally, it’s respectful when you go on your knees in front of your guru and he said, ‘I like you’ and then he said, ‘It’s cold let’s go up.’ I was in denial, praying that it would not be…I looked at him as a godly figure, like Mother Teresa. I said, ‘Please don’t. You’re a guru, the world believes in you.’”
Doe says he Bikram then proceeded to rape her in his hotel room. It’s unclear why Doe went on to work for him at his headquarters. But she did, and sadly, Bikram violently raped her two more times. She says she did not come forward sooner because she thought no one would believe her because “everyone was so hypnotized by him” and feared that speaking would ruin her career as a yoga teacher.
Bikram declined to speak in this interview, but made a statement that all allegations are false. In a 2012 interview with “Nightline,” when asked about the charges he replied, “People become famous and people become jealous. Sometimes people talk bad about Jesus also.” He added, “The hardest problem in my life is staying away from women.”
I am deeply saddened by these women’s stories and hope that justice is served. This is a worst-case-scenario example of why it’s so dangerous for the practice of yoga to be sexualized and why it’s especially important for practitioners to have a strict code of ethics when it comes to their students.