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Bikram Yoga Founder Is Sued of Sexual Harassment by Former Trainee

Update Date: Mar 29, 2013 02:14 PM EDT

Millionaire Bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury has been sued by a former student, who accuses the "Bad Boy of Yoga" of sexual harassment, discrimination and defamation.

According to the New York Times, the accusation comes from Sarah Baughn, 28 years old, a yoga student, teacher and international competitor based in San Francisco. She first became involved with the world of Bikram yoga as a 20-year-old and says that she considered the yoga founder to be a personal hero.

That all changed in 2005, when, she says, he began making advances at her during a teacher training course. There, she became uncomfortable with the way that his female pupils would give him massages and wash his feet. Then the married guru offered her a Rolex, saying that he knew her in a past life, and asked her whether they should pursue a relationship.

Ms. Baughn says that she refused Mr. Choudhury's advances, even trying, at times, to redirect his attention to his wife Rajashree, a teacher and founder of Yoga USA, which is seeking to make yoga into an Olympic sport. Still, her lawyer says, his efforts persisted. She says that he would press against her while adjusting her posture, order her to kiss him in front of other pupils and even assaulted her once in a hotel room.

Though Ms. Baughn's lawyer Mary Shea Hagebols declined to state whether her client had reported these accusations to the police, she said that Ms. Baughn had reported them to other trainees. Those reports fell on deaf ears, as the other trainees said that Mr. Choudhury was harmless and innocent. Author Benjamin Lorr said that could probably be traced to the culture of fear cultivated by the practice. He said that, when researching his book Hellbent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga, many trainees refused to go on the record with him, fearing that their certificates would be taken away in retaliation.

In the beginning, Mr. Choudhury reportedly offered studio classes for free and slept on that very floor in the evenings. However, a meeting with actress Shirley MacLaine convinced him that no one in the United States respected anything given away for free. According to the Los Angeles Times, the meeting transformed him; far from the soft-spoken, unworldly guru that one associates with yoga, the 67-year-old Choudhury is a flashy, often profane name-dropper.

Petra Starke, the president of Bikram's Yoga College of India, said that Choudhury was disappointed in the allegiation, but that the matter was in the hands of his attorneys.

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