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Sex harassment scandal rocks the peace of Bikram yoga world

March 28, 2013|By Robin Abcarian
  • Yoga master Bikram Choudhury assumes the lotus position.
Yoga master Bikram Choudhury assumes the lotus position. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

They just keep coming and coming and coming.

Not illegal immigrants. Yoga scandals.

Last week, it was Lululemon Athletica’s “Pantsgate.”

This week, it’s a sexual harassment lawsuit against Choudhury, father to the Los Angeles-based hot yoga movement.

Sarah Baughn, a former student, has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging that for more than four years, Choudhury sexually harassed her and humiliated her in front of other students. Once, she claimed, he pushed her leg so hard while “assisting” her with a pose that her hamstring tore.

Choudhury’s assistant did not respond to an email asking for his response to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit brought back memories of a 2002 Times profile that introduced Choudhury as he was on the verge of a major business expansion.

Times staffer Hilary MacGregor visited him at his La Cienega Boulevard studio and described him as anything but the mellow teacher one usually associates with the discipline.

“Choudhury defies the stereotype of a soul-soothing, aphorism-spewing bearded yogi,” MacGregor wrote. “He likes expensive cars and Rolex watches. He likes to drop the names of famous people he claims to have saved ([Shirley] MacLaine, Raquel Welch, Quincy Jones), the athletes whose careers he claims to have has resurrected (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John McEnroe), the president he says he cured (Richard Nixon -- of phlebitis).

“He climbs onto a chair perched like a throne on a large mirrored cube, and dons a headset. His introduction ranges from the compassionate to the profane, from the incomprehensible to the profound. Now, he is a soulful Indian. Now, an abuse-spewing Hollywood executive. (Cleaves [Senior Bikram teacher Emmy Cleaves, Choudhury’s 15th student in Los Angeles] calls his tendency to swear and exaggerate ‘Bikram-isms.’) ‘Sometimes he uses a little profanity. He never did that in the early years,’ she says. ‘He learned a lot of that from the show-biz people. He thought that was America.’

“He welcomes his students and warns them what lies ahead.

"‘In America, they say, you can take a horse to the pond, but you can't make him drink,’ he says. ‘My way is different. I only take the horse to the pond to make him drink. If he doesn't, I'll cut his head off.’”

Namaste!

Meanwhile, as Lululemon tries to move past the blow that its recall of flimsy yoga pants has inflicted on its image and bottom line, competitors have wasted no time capitalizing on the scandalette.

The yoga clothier Beyond Yoga  has a new slogan: “We’ve got you covered. Our values are transparent -- our bottoms are not!”

And SwimOutlet.com, which bills itself as “the web’s most popular swim shop,” has just launched a sister site, YogaOutlet.com. Its marketing campaign: “Bend with confidence.”

[Updated at 7:46 a.m.: In a message posted on bikramyoga.com, the president of Bikram’s Yoga College of India , Petra Starke wrote that Choudhury is “disappointed in the false charges made in this lawsuit. However, the matter is in the hands of his attorneys, and he will not have comment at this time.”]

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Twitter: @robinabcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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