This week, in famous douchebag news – yoga’s most well known conman and pervert, Bikram Choudhury, is being sued by a sixth woman – Canadian Jill Lawler – for allegedly sexually assaulting her on multiple occasions from 2010-2013.
I’ve done Bikram Yoga five times in my life. The first time, I cried. Real tears of pain. I was in the last month of my graduate degree and when a WagJag (*the Canadian woman’s Groupon) for hot yoga in my city came up, I eagerly bought the 10-session deal, not knowing what Bikram Yoga was.
After many pleasant experiences with other forms of hot yoga, I tried Bikram and can happily report that I FUCKING. HATED. EVERY. SECOND. Not only is the torture chamber you practice in heated to 40 degrees CELSUIS (I repeat: CELSUIS, PEOPLE), the practice is a series of the same 26-postures in a non-stop increasingly more sweaty progression. TEH WORST. And I’m not the first one to experiment with this level of torture, either. Case in point, Elle Beaver’s own Shelagh tried Bikram last year and lived to tell the tale more successfully than I am currently recounting. (Editor’s note: The term “more successfully” here means very, very little.)
Not pictured: Piles and piles and piles and piles and piles of sweat
But despite the 10 litres of sweat expelled, something else left me with a super unsettled feeling after my first practice. The cult-like idolization of the creator and namesake to Bikram Yoga – Bikram Choudhury – was extremely uncomfortable. Both during and between postures, instructors spouted out the “wisdom” of Bikram and the halls of the studio were lined with personal photos of instructors with Bikram during their 9-week teacher training certification (which, at minimum, costs a very reasonable US $12, 500!!).
After my first practice I went home and started googling; it didn’t take long to unearth a series of stories about sexual harassment and assault from women around the world. As Shelagh wrote last year, “the accusations against Choudhury are all similar – that he took “special interest” in them during one of the bi-annual Bikram Yoga teacher-training retreats allegedly telling them things like ‘I can see something inside of you that no one else can,’ before gradually moving toward serious sexual and verbal assault, and in at least two cases – rape. These disturbing allegations are merely the latest, adding to the list of accusations against Bikram including “racism, misogyny, sexual harassment, homophobia and threats of violence.”
Not surprisingly, the allegations made by Jill Lawler involve a pattern of behaviours by Choudhury that are eerily similar to those above. According to Lawler, Choudhury first assaulted her in 2010 after trying to put his hands down her pants while she was massaging his feet. However, she maintains that the assault continued beyond the first incident to “other occasions over the coming years while she was working at his studios, including at his home in Los Angeles, at another training course, and while training in India.”
Lawyer Mary Shea Hagebols, who is also representing five other women who filed similar lawsuits against Choudhury between 2013 and 2014 for sexual assault, is representing Lawler.
Choudhury is, of course, denying all allegations. According to this statement on the official Bikram Yoga website, the LAPD apparently looked in to the previous five allegations and found no reason to pursue a criminal investigation. However, the accusations are having negative effects on some of the hundreds of Bikram Yoga studios around the world, which have begun distancing themselves from Choudhury, even removing his name from their studios.
Only time will tell how this case will be resolved, and we’ll be following it here at Elle Beaver. But as both Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby illustrate – when it comes to sexual assault by famous men, people are hesitant to believe survivors, especially if it runs the risk of tarnishing the image of perfection the man in question has worked so hard to cultivate. The exact kind of perfection the cult-like leader Choudhury has been fostering through thousands of followers for decades.
Do you practice Bikram Yoga? Have you tried it before? What do you think about these accusations? Get at us!!