Bikram Founder Back in Hot Seat.

Via Jennifer S. White
on Mar 23, 2013
get elephant's newsletter
Bikram Choudhury (
Bikram Choudhury

The first piece of news I happened upon this morning was about the founder of “hot yoga,” Bikram Choudhury.

According to ABC news, Choudhury is being sued by a former student for “sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment.”

Choudhury is known by yoga enthusiasts, regardless of their yogic style preferences, for saying outrageously arrogant things, especially regarding his self-proclaimed magnetic sexuality.

“In an interview with ABC’s David Wright last fall, Choudhury said, ‘Women in the world love me, because I take care of women…But yogi is supposed to be yogi. They cannot involve with women.””

In an article for Yoga Journal, Choudhury calls all other yoga instructors of non-Bikram styles “clowns.” He goes on to say that “No one knows what the hell they are doing. There is no such thing as Kundalini Yoga. No such thing as Power Yoga. No such thing as Ashtanga Yoga.” He then claims that he alone teaches true Hatha Yoga and is the sole follower of Patanjali.

Just Google his name. The internet is filled with a plethora of examples of his douchebaggery. This guy couldn’t be more absurd, and while I have absolutely no idea if there’s anything real or criminal behind this recent lawsuit, it also doesn’t come as a shock—which I think says a lot.

Regardless of Choudhury’s controversial nature, people love when heroes are taken off their pedestals by the media. John Friend’s scandal rocked the yoga community because it made yogis own up to the reality that there can be—gasp!—human flaws that exist in yoga’s top authorities.

At the same time, Choudhury’s potential upcoming legal battle is even more ideal for us to grab onto and enjoy (watching) the ride, because he’s a rather unlikable character anyway, but while he might be personally difficult to stomach, his professional success is easily measured.

The above-mentioned Yoga Journal article begins by noting that Choudhury “makes no secret of his stable of Rolls Royces, his mansion and swimming pool, and his vaunted friendships with Hollywood stars.”

In short, he doesn’t try to hide the fact that he has no plans to not fully enjoy his monetary and name-branded success.

I guess some yogis could see this as admirable. (I’m looking at the Bikram yogis in the audience with questioning eyes, because I honestly can’t see many other takers.) Possibly it’s admirable to own up to luxurious enjoyment instead of being dishonest and pretending to be humble and practical only on the surface.

Still, to most serious practitioners, this goes against our yogic teachings. I don’t pretend here that I want to get heavily into this moral and ethical argument or discussion, but it is unavoidable when you merely mention the name “Bikram Choudhury” to a room of in-the-know yogis.

I think the bottom line is that, as I’ve mentioned before in my Pistorious article and now here in this one, the media promotes fallen hero stories for a reason: people like them, and this fallen (self-proclaimed) hero is not only no exception, he’s the golden (yoga media) ticket.

Why? Because the guy’s a douchebag. Sorry (Bikram lovers), but he is.

So there you have it. The latest breaking yoga news. Talk amongst yourselves, and think about keeping in mind that when you call yourself things like the “most respected living yoga guru in the world,” society is going to love to see that pillar topple.


Like elephant Yoga on Facebook.

Ed: Brianna Bemel


About Jennifer S. White

Jennifer S. White is a voracious reader, obsessive writer, passionate yoga instructor and drinker of hoppy ales. She’s also a devoted mama and wife (a stay-at-home yogi). She considers herself to be one of the funniest people who ever lived and she’s also an identical twin. In addition to her work on elephant journal, Jennifer has over 40 articles published on the wellness website MindBodyGreen and her yoga-themed column Your Personal Yogi ran in the newspaper Toledo Free Press. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in geology, absolutely no degrees in anything related to literature, and she currently owns a wheel of cheese. If you want to learn more about Jennifer, make sure to check out her writing, as she’s finally put her tendencies to over-think and over-share to good use. Jennifer is the author of The Best Day of Your Life, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She's also as excited as a five year old to announce the release of her second book, The Art of Parenting: Love Letters from a Mother, available on Amazon.


59 Responses to “Bikram Founder Back in Hot Seat.”

  1. Lizlojo says:

    Wow! Right on the heels of reading Benjamin Lorr's, "HELL-BENT, Obsession, Pain, and the search for something like transcendence in competitive yoga"
    Eye-opener on your subject Jennifer.

  2. Natalie Baginski says:

    I've never done Bikram yoga so I can't say anything about it from experience. But I do know that a part of the ancient practice of Yoga is a component called Ayurveda. And according to Ayurveda, the oldest known system of health and wellness on the planet, one style of exercise can't be right for all people. For example, if you have a Pitta constitution and it's hot out and your Pitta is accumulating, doing vigorous yoga in the heat is going to do nothing but enflame the Pitta and make it worse. Your Pitta can accumulate to the point of moving into other doshas. Pitta people might want to do restorative yoga, especially in summer. For a person with a vata imbalance, especially in winter, vigorous exercise is incredibly aggravating. A vata person should start to slow down in the evenings so she can be off to sleep by 10pm. That isn't going to happen if you're doing Bikram yoga from 6-8. Vatas do really well with Yin Yoga. From the point of view of detox, sure, sweating will get rid of some ama, but at the expense of enflamed tissue, a firey digestion and if you are a Vata, an aggravated mind. In the end, even among the different doshas, a person can only know from experience so even with my knowledge of Ayurved and the Yoga Sutras I still wouldn't tell someone that Bikram yoga is good or bad. How do you feel when you do it? That's the bottom line. But for him to say he's the only one who understands Yoga? I beg to differ. I wonder if all this vigorous Bikram Yoga is what aggravated his Pitta so much so that he became an arrogant, overdriven sex pest? If he's an expert on yoga he will understand the nature of the 8 Prakritis and recognize when his own ego is overshadowing his ability to be peaceful and balanced. In the end, if he's not "enlightened", and by enlightened I mean "established in Self" as is discussed in the Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, then his fall from grace is just the same kind of fall any other ordinary human would experience when, Ayurvedically speaking, one is severely out of balance. He should also be familiar with Satwa, Tamas and Rajas if he's so incredibly familiar with "Yoga" and if he is he will know he's not a very Satvic person. The vedic literature says one's success comes down to his level of Satwa not his actions. I guess he didn't read that part. And the literature does not say that a "Yogi" can't be with women. There's a huge difference between a householder and a Sanyasi and he has obviously chosen to be a 'householder' so he can sleep with women. Whether or not he's a douche about it depends on his level of consciousness, which in my opinion, seems a little low. But I digress…I have never done Bikram Yoga. Apparently it's helped a lot of people, especially people with a Kapha disposition. in the end if he's kind of a mess, his style of yoga might still work for a lot of people. Outer reflects inner and so his personality is just reflecting what's going on inside of him and apparently Bikram yoga isn't working for him. Maybe he should call Paul Grilley or Judith Lassiter for some private sessions.

  3. Jared says:

    LOL. Maybe you should hit up Bikram Cleveland for a class. Bikram's title is Yogi Raj. I shudder to think about your made up 'vinasa' class. Bikram is right. Most 'yogis' and 'yoginis' ARE clowns! Most yoga in the USA is spurious. If I am going to consider who is a better authority on yoga, I am probably going to consider the guy from India with the yoga Empire to be the expert. It is kind of ridiculous to me to hear you call Bikram a douchebag. Even if you think that who needs to hear that? Certainly you could express that idea more succinctly and somebody is paying you to write this I hope. Whatever contortions and calisthenics you like are not necessarily 'yoga' and even the term yoga itself is a bit funny. I know yoga means a lot of things to many different people, but if I spread barbecue sauce on a sponge it doesn't make it pork. I think that Bikram is a great man, and to say otherwise really shows ignorance on the subject of Yoga. It really is like Bikram says. If you have studied any other 'style' of yoga, you begin the practice at minus ten thousand. This whole thing reeks of cultural appropriation anyways. I mean it is kind of hilarious if you can step back and take it in. A bunch of Americans are upset that this Indian guy is ruining their yoga party by trying to bring yoga as he understands it to the rest of the world. I enjoy hearing said americans describe how this indian Yogi misunderstands yoga. Keep it up, folks.

  4. Maya Georg says:

    Right On, Sister!

    Our Yogi culture has us between a rock and a hard place- we see douchebaggery, but we can't say anything because we might appear less yogic.

    People will claim you aren't a legitimate yogi for stating the obvious, and then personally attack you in the next breath (See Above).

    The fact is we need to police our community and stop this behavior before it reaches the courts and media. Because when that it gets to that point, we all look bad.

  5. Elias says:

    Firstly nothing reviles me more than a teacher, a yoga, confusing boundaries with limitations. I am a man but having taken yoga from many studios I have seen this happen in many configurations over the years.
    I practiced at Bikram back in the day over an Italian Furniture store in Beverly Hills….and I met him…. It is a thought out practice. Sometimes one tripwires over a mode of practice and fails to receive the lessons…..It may be that is his journey … He has done a service to many with introducing the practice to many… I spent one hour with him once giving him free advice on marketing sell thru videos(yes that long ago)….. I left feeling that he receives things like a vacuum including your energy if you let him…. I wonder which of the 26 poses up or down addresses the condition of "arrogance"?

  6. HeatherM says:

    Well, what is surprising is the woman with the case against Bikram claims that he called her and many women "bitches"….and this was in crowded rooms of 400 people.

    It is always sad and pathetic to learn that many people (probably educated, parents, etc) run after a guy like this. It makes you lose faith in the masses and their level of not only intelligence, but sensibility.

  7. yingyangyoga says:

    i met him and did 3 and a half years of his patented sequence. i have read a 200 pp unabridged unwatered down version ( sanskrit included) of Patanjali's Sutras. He is not following all of the sutras. And though he does teach the the real dealio some of his books show him in his earlier years doing the same pose in an 'easier' way which puzzled me. anyways, i definitely believe that he is in the zeitgeist of his upbringing where women are considered chattel. bc his wife is a brilliant yogini (who's done poses on a sword without getting cut – don't ask me- no clue) but if he were fair maybe he could have called the yoga syle something other than his first name and be a bit more humble and perhaps use the last name so his wife could have some share in the success.
    the sad thing is that, i found that bc teachers are -some are like drill sergeants and insist one gives one's 100+ effort i've injured my back about 3 times. one time the pain last 15 weeks, bc i took to heart the message and ignored an old dormant back injury.

    his CDs clearly have a pejorative quality to them towards women. he uses inappropriate condescending language to women in my view.

    i left mainly because i disliked the macho aspect he had. while his speech was good and i saw him close up and talked with him, i think back then i was probably affected by the kool-aid LOL…

    how can a person patent a series of postures – he says it's like music- he patented the series as one would patent a piece of music. he almost lost, and still the issue could arise again and he could be re-tried since it is not notes of music but 26 poses that he appropriated from a total of 400 poses (406? or 408 is it)..that means any other mire humble well meaning teacher would have to almost steer clear bc he has lawyer shark lurking around everywhere including Lululemon. seriously

    I like his wife. Too bad she's in the shadow of his arrogance

  8. yingyangyoga says:

    there are 2 or 3 spelling mistakes.. just saying, in case you'd like to proof read your article. Namaste xoxo

  9. Sarah Friend says:

    I agree whole heartedly. Bikram is a douchebag. Narcissism is a very unattractive quality. Yoga is about love and spiritual growth. His sexist views are not as tolerated in western society.

  10. bhavini says:

    The greatest yoga teacher in the world is the one teaching you..your Guru as he/she is the one changing your life and guiding you to the right path :)

  11. RAS says:

    Krishnamacharya, the "father" of modern yoga, would have one word for Bikram: "Fraud."

    Krisnamacharya, the teacher of B.K.S. Iyengar, Patabhi Jois, Indra Devi and T.K.V. Desikachar, developed his yoga practice by spending seven-and-a-half years with Yogeshwara Ramamohana a cave at the foot of Mt. Kailash.

    The asanas that Bikram teaches and charges for do not belong to Bikram. They are the intellectual property of India. Bikram got them for free.

    The hot room nonsense is just that: nonsense.

    As has been pointed out by medical doctors like Dr. Krishna Raman (a 30-year student of BKS Iyengar), pre-heated rooms have a negative effect on the parasympathetic nervous system which, over the long-term, leads to looking haggard. (Serious yoga students and teachers should read a copy of Dr. Raman's book, 'Yoga & Medical Science FAQ')

    And to point to the obvious, there aren't too many pre-heated caves at the foot of Mt. Kailash.

    Bikram? Money-grubbing fraud.

  12. Paula Reeves-Carrasquillo says:

    I cringe when I see images of him. I love the series and practice Bikram Yoga a few times a week. But if anyone is more likely to be found guilty of what he is being accused, it's this guy. And I'm a yogi and not afraid to say it. We should be supporting the woman making the accusations if sides are to be taken. Otherwise, we say to her, "Oh, you're crazy. You're nuts. That didn't happen to you the way you say it happened. You must have done something to instigate it." It's the same gaslighting tactic society uses with rape victims and why no one wants to come forward for fear of not being believed and subsequently being thrust deeper into trauma and depression. There are MANY issues needing addressed with this, not just Bikram's spirituality or enlightenment or lack of enlightenment. Our enlightenment as a society and our propensity to attach value on material things including idolization of people are among just a few that come to mind immediately. Namaste!

  13. kmacku says:

    This response is not so much to the author as it is to some of the audience. Let me start by saying I'm not a Bikram yogi; I disapprove of the majority of Bikram's claims and practices when it comes to yoga. I've taken a few hot yoga classes, but never a Bikram class, and I have no interest in changing that. I agree with the author that (if the claims are true), he's a douchebag and further add that he's very likely a misogynistic pig, and certainly not a yogi as I have come to know of them.

    All of that said, however, let's take a step back. Before we all come rushing at the man to tear him down and stone him, let's remember that he *has* had some (perhaps very minor) benefit to the yoga community. Because of the widespread McDonalds/Walmart model of getting classes out to as many people as possible, a new wave of yogis has entered the fold, and if for every 1,000 of them, a single one went on to say, "There must be something more," and from there found other forms of yoga closer to Hatha to practice, or went on to discover that part of themselves that brought them closer to what we might consider "yoga," then we must (as hard as it is) thank Bikram for those gifts.

    Also, he has not been yet convicted of his misdeeds. We are not the judges of his case, nor do we have a right to judge him, many of us least of all (myself included) who've never interacted with him. Yes, I'm told the horror stories, but I cannot confirm them, or their greatest extent.

    This isn't to say that he's innocent, or even a good person. I'm not going for a CCN Steubenville argument. This is only to say, hey, we don't know *all* of the facts yet, let's take a moment and be thankful for the "recovering Bikrams" who came to a deeper form of understanding but were first introduced to yoga by his method. They are, after all, the best source for why his style of yoga doesn't work: they did it *and* something else for a time. And when the judgement is rendered, and not before then, be it so necessary, ready your stones.

    And even then I'd still encourage against that. In the Gita, Arjuna asks what should happen if he were to suddenly stop yoga and fall from the path—would he lose all of the progress he had made? Krishna replies that all progress, even the smallest of steps, is progress. Think of that. Even if you personally cannot forgive Bikram for whatever reason, if he walks the John Friend path, his students will need new icons, new teachers, new classes. Many of them may be materialistic, but we need to look past them to find the people who are truly, genuinely seeking yoga. Maybe, through this, his students can learn that it's possible, or even that it's time to explore a different kind of yoga; a yoga where mirrors, copyrights, and heated rooms may not be necessary; a yoga of compassion and forgiveness, rather than competition and egoism; a yoga that even we could aspire to attain.

    Honor the light in others as in yourself.

  14. Sandy P. says:

    I went to hear him speak in Memphis a couple of years ago to prove to myself the rumours were unfounded. I made it through about an hour of what I can only describe as the most arrogant and self-absorbed rant i had ever heard before getting up from the front row and marching out. (To the slack-jawed disbelief of most of the Bikramites…lol) I could actually taste the koolaid coming up as I left.
    We can thank Bikram for bringing many to yoga…but then pray that those many to come to see him for what he really represents and go on to find the truth and beauty of yoga behind his ugliness.

  15. janey says:

    What concerns me is the glee within the "namaste" yoga community concerning these recent events. Everyone should remember that 1. the truth in this matter is not absolute, not from the alleged victim's point of view and not fromBikram's point of virw –I expect the truth lies somewhere in the middle; 2. accusations as written by lawyers are inevitably hyperbolic ( I've read the lawsuit and it comes across like a bad Lifetime movie script); and 3. there are many many instances of accusers laying false accusations against individuals for noteriety or financial gain (Google elizabeth Jones, or the Missoula Montana rape allegations for example). Say what you like about Bikram, all allegations have yet to be substantiated and in my books, the rush to judgement is unconscionable.

  16. No Thanks says:

    From his materialistic, self-aggrandizing, media-manipulating position, this all works for him (regardless of our opinions) as long as we give him attention . His picture is on this post. There's always someone interested in taking yoga from someone famous. There's a positive comment on this post. If one in a three-thousand readers ends up giving him business as a result of the attention here, he benefits financially. It's impossible to bring him down with media attention like this. There's nothing new here. He's been saying and doing incredibly outrageous things for decades. His bad-boy image only enlarges with every sentence. I haven't used his name in this comment. I hope it's the last and this ends. Since he's not going to jail and he can buy his way out of any legal hassle, the best thing we can do is never write his name, or mention his business.

  17. No Thanks says:

    You couldn't be more wrong about me being a plant, Paula. So my suggestion is that instead of fueling this pointless comment stream, you actually do something to bring him to justice. I would be one-hundred percent for it if you did. Help get him convicted. It won't be easy, but you seem to have the spirit for a real fight, so go get him. I'll join in with any protest or action I hear about–including picketing his B.H. studio. Bring him down, Paula. I'm all for it. Just don't kid yourself into thinking that writing anything here is doing him harm in a way that he will recognize. You point out that this isn't about his business, so what is it about? Do you think he's reading this? No. So we're all singing to the choir. At best it's a waste of energy. At worst, it gets people like you who might actually have the will and strength to go out there and bring him to justice to let off steam just writing heated comments and have that convince you that you've actually done something. And though this will be my last comment, I will respectfully read your reply if you have one–especially if it includes information on some political Action you have planned. Oh, and even if you don't do anything in regards to "him" specifically, perhaps you might want to volunteer at your local center for the prevention of rape. The one in our area–the one that my psychologist wife is a Board member of–is called Rape Crisis. The one in your area is probably called something else, but I'm sure you can find it with a little effort.

  18. Jared says:

    Bikram Bikram Bikram!

    I practice Bikram's beginner class every day. I have my own hot room, in my house. I have shared this with a few of my close friends, one of whom is a yoga instructor herself, of may years. I am about four years into my own practice, and I had no experience with Yoga prior to Bikram. I initially went on a lark. I had recently lost a lot of weight, almost 100 lbs. I was beginning my new life as a reasonably fit person. I was pretty into cardio and lifting. I had always been beefy and not really fat, but I was terribly unhealthy. I lost all the weight but my body was still awful. I went to a bikram class and I honestly knew a few of the yoginis from strip clubs and/or porn. I had just gotten out of an extremely abusive relationship with a woman best described as a showgirl, so I felt sort of in my element, especially since she was the first to introduce me to yoga. My ex taught vinyasa flow at a gym, part time.

    I found immediate results with bikram, and went every day. I even got a job cleaning the carpets of the studio. The machine was broken and the previous staff did not even realize. I also told the owner about UV air purifiers, which he later installed.

    I found there was a lot of sexism at the studio and as much as some students appreciated my excitement at discovering yoga, many didn't like me at all. They detested my intensity, my sweating, my occasional grunt.

    So, I understand why so many people hate Bikram. I have years of construction experience, some scary tattoos, and am 6' tall and at 180 I am pretty skinny. By skinny I mean one solid muscle. I kind of smell, I have ugly dreads, you know the type of 'yogi' I am. So there you go. I like Bikram. That is the only studio that would have me. If it were not for Bikram yoga, I would not do yoga. There are many women who would not be welcome in many studios because they are strippers, or worse, or are just kind of dark and spooky. People like us study asana, and study the vedas too! I try not to judge other yoga students as lacking in intensity or kidding themselves. I know my study is different than others', and I know my emphasis is different. I meditate on power, for sure. I meditate on being beautiful, sexy even. Is true. I enjoy observing my hard won results in the mirror.

    The funny thing I really want to share is the truth of the experience. When I began my practice, I was somewhat there to enjoy the scenery, sure. However once I 'got it' and started going every day, I avoided members of the opposite sex there like a plague. Yoga became my sacred space, and before long I was the one who was offended because other students were checking me out lustily. When I was a fat douchebag, I would have totally have taken advantage of a situation like this, but the more yoga I do, the less I am inclined toward bad behavior. I am in the best shape of my life now and am completely celibate. I garner more interest than ever before in my life, yet I prefer a life of renunciation. Fornication is not even appealing to me now.

    Many things in my life are like this. I am moved to right action all the time now, and wrong action galls me. I study the vedas on my own. Bikram never told me to do this.

    Bikram's class is designed for beginners. If you have an established practice, it is hard to let it go and start over from the beginning. Bikram is a true guru, and is here to challenge his students, to make us think. He is a human being, and from India. He does have certain cultural peculiarities compared to your typical American. I think it is important to separate his personality from his asana practice.

    That being said, I am a neophyte in yoga. I know a lot about Bikram. Bikram is simple, it is for beginners, it is for people who maybe have a hard time with yoga. It is really like remedial yoga, or yoga for dummies.

    However the series, programming for dummies, etc., has come to be recognized as one of the top methods of teaching. There is a whole philosophy of accepting your ignorance with a certain crass, humorous, frank, non gentleness that is integral to Bikram's method.

    I know this is not for everybody, but I myself am happy to practice only Bikram until I come up with a better system.

    Honestly, though, I doubt I will ever get to Bikram's advanced class.


  19. Dianne says:

    Great post…I love it when we examine and question what rocks our core values

  20. Mr.Science says:

    I have no dog in this fight. I am not a yoga person.
    I just noted that once again elephant seems to have a sliding scale for what ‘respectful dialogue’ is. Certainly the substance of the article could have come through without resorting to calling Bikram a douchebag (kind of a middle school insult).
    It is similar to the article that called gun owners fat and stupid.
    Bikram my well be arrogant and a misogynist, but the language does not fit with respectful.
    I only say this because comments with much softer language get deleted simply for have different viewpoints.
    Nothing more than a call for consistency.

  21. RAS says:

    Jared, if you have an "established practice" all you ever do is "start over from the beginning."

    If your practice is not established, deeply and firmly established, you find yourself following someone else's set pattern and not listening to your own body.

    Meditating on "power," being "beautiful, sexy even", and observing "the hard won results in the mirror" is only meditation if it leads you to insight that all of that is transitory, impermanent and not to be clung.

    Putting it another way, if your meditation on and around the body does not lead you to the insight that the body is not self, it isn't meditation.

    Best wishes for your practice. May it develop along all the eight limbs of yoga and not get get stuck at #3.

  22. allison says:

    Why? Because the guy’s a douchebag. Sorry (Bikram lovers), but he is.

    thank you

  23. drlaurel says:

    I don't know, and I hate to judge, but I haven't seen many real yogis with cheesy "Vegas" portraits like that shown above and I find myself wondering how many people his car collection could feed. I, myself, feel guilty about my one car even when I have the funds to buy five. Sometimes we start out with good intentions and get sucked in to culture and sucked out of our true consciousness…

  24. @AhimsaYogi says:

    With every step we take, with every thing that we say, with every thought we give extra energy to, we walk either towards greater love, or greater hate. Towards greater connection or increased disconnection.
    Choose mindfully, and actively engage in the co-creation of your reality, and the shaping of your future.
    Regardless of what others are doing, what version of yourself are you building?

Leave a Reply