29 Nov 2010

Are Yoga 'franchises' cults disguised as big business preying on those vulnerable to exploitation and abuse?

CounterPunch Weekend Edition April 2 - 4, 2010

Should Yoga be Regulated?

Reports of Injuries, Sexual Abuse and Cultic Practices are Growing


Yoga, an ancient meditative practice that traces its philosophical and spiritual roots to Hinduism in India, is no stranger to controversy in the United States. Ever since it emerged as the “wellness practice-of-choice” for aging baby-boomers and work-stressed yuppies, critics have cited the high number of injuries sustained by yoga students as a sign that the practice, for all its therapeutic potential, may not be the healing balm it’s cracked up to be.

And that's not all: in recent years, there are growing charges that some self-styled yoga organizations and their high-profile teachers are preying on their students - replacing spiritual enlightenment with psychological manipulation, New Age “hucksterism,” and even cultic worship.

These charges, including the highly-publicized "outing" of yoga celebrities like Rodney Yee - who was accused in 2004 of having serial affairs with students, and has since withdrawn into semi-exile - have led to calls from public authorities to impose new business regulations on the nation's estimated 5,000 yoga "studios.”

Thus far, the new regulatory movement has focused on yoga "teacher training" programs – programs offered by some of the larger studios that give their advanced yoga students an opportunity to become full-time instructors and help propagate the yoga “faith.”

But other movements are afoot to ban yoga from being taught in public schools, or on any publically financed property, on the assumption that yoga constitutes a de facto religious view - and teaching it there would violate the principle of separation of church from state.

Yoga, in fact, is not the quiet esoteric practice of yore, but a boisterous and bustling – and some would say, rapacious - big business. The “industry” grosses an estimated $6 billion annually - and not just for classes, but for a dizzying array of yoga-related products (mats, videos, clothing, etc) and services (special yoga workshops and yoga “vacations,” retreats and tours) that yoga devotees – 78% of them women – use to “accessorize” their lives.

In fact, at least 18 million Americans practice some form of yoga regularly, according to recent surveys, and another 25 million say they plan to in the coming year. That's more than double the number who claimed to practice in 2002 - and nearly 15% of all US adults.

And by all accounts, the growth trend is continuing, hampered only by the onset of the US recession, and by steadily rising prices for yoga classes.

To some, it may seem harsh to want to criticize the new yoga trend. After all, with materialism so rampant in North American culture, isn’t any spiritually reflective practice to be welcomed, not condemned?

In theory, perhaps. But a closer look at yoga as it’s actually practiced and promoted in the US suggests that the movement’s evangelical zeal, drive for commercial acceptance, and lack of professional accountability, are leaving the yoga public vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, while compromising some of yoga's time-honored principles.

Take, for example, the issue of injuries. Ask any yoga teacher today if injuries are a problem and most will simply shrug, and say the problem’s “exaggerated.” But leading orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists have reported a steady increase in yoga injuries as the practice has gained more adherents. And not just minor sprains, but serious and often incapacitating knee, shoulder, neck and back injuries.

Dr. Jeffrey Halbrecht, a board-certified surgeon specializing in arthroscopic surgery and sports medicine and former medical director for the Women's World Pro Ski Tour, has called on the fitness industry to take action.

"We're starting to see the types of injuries from yoga that we usually see in high-impact sports such as basketball," Halbrecht told the online business publication, Market Wire, back in 2005. "These are senseless and totally preventable. And it's not just beginners who are suffering these debilitating injuries. It's experienced yoga clients who are being advised to perform in ways that are clearly counter to good fitness and the wisdom of traditional yoga."

Traditional yoga teachers have also weighed in, suggesting that young, poorly-trained yoga teachers and a market imperative to pack yoga studios to the brim with students who can't be properly supervised are chiefly to blame for the current injury trend.

"Many of these [teachers] haven’t received adequate training," says Arkady Shirin, who teaches yoga and lifestyle workshops in San Francisco and says he prefers to train his clients one-on-one. "Anyone can offer a 'yoga teachers' training certification course' without a license or certification of their own. They hand out these phony pieces of paper, calling them official certificates, and the quality control is nonexistent."

Experts like Halbrehct and Shirin are especially concerned about the growing number of yoga-exercise “hybrids” such as “Power Yoga" and “Hot Yoga" that de-emphasize the spiritual dimensions of yoga to make it more acceptable to the fitness “mainstream.” Often these classes are taught by traditional fitness instructors in athletic clubs rather than by trained yoga teachers with somewhat greater knowledge of the practice and its risks.

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association, just 35% of US fitness centers offered yoga in 1993. However, by 2000 that percentage had more than doubled to 75%, and by 2003, it was 85%.

Faced with growing criticism, yoga studios have sought, with mixed success, to stave off efforts at government regulation. The Virginia-based Yoga Alliance, which has emerged as a national clearinghouse and lobby for the yoga industry, has asked studios nationwide to agree to comply voluntarily with its own suggested teacher training guidelines, which include a minimum of 200 hours of closely supervised instruction in yoga techniques as well as anatomy and related topics, usually spread out over a year or more.

Nevertheless, a dozen states, including Massachusetts and most recently, Virginia, have already moved to compel yoga studios to demonstrate compliance with state vocational training guidelines, and to pay state taxes and annual fees. That’s already caused a backlash among some yoga advocates who say that yoga studios and their training programs should simply be exempt from state guidelines because of their special “spiritual” mission, and because yoga consumers, despite evidence to the contrary, are not in real danger.

Last year, for example, yoga advocates in New York succeeded in temporarily blocking implementation of the state’s planned regulatory guidelines, after they lobbied state officials and threatened to launch a publicity campaign. And in perhaps the biggest yoga “push back” to date, earlier this year, yoga instructors in Virginia filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth, charging that its new teacher training guidelines violated their First Amendment rights.

While residents of major metropolitan areas seem increasingly – and rather naively - sympathetic to the new yoga trend, the reaction elsewhere has ranged from contempt to suspicion. Bible Belt conservatives have charged that yoga’s foundation in the Hindu religious cosmos - with its pantheon of gods and rejection of monotheism – cannot be reconciled with Christianity. Some Christian leaders have even urged their fellow Christians to speak out against yoga.

Religious hysteria aside, some mainline religious denominations have also raised questions about how quickly – and uncritically - Americans have embraced the new yoga trend. And there have been a growing number of incidents in which attempts by local elementary schools to allow yoga to be incorporated into “gym classes” led to angry complaints and protests from parents, usually but not always Christians.

More recently, concerns are being expressed about the appearance of yoga “cults” like Dahn Yoga and other yoga “franchises” such as Bikram Yoga that seem to be taking the yoga movement in spooky and even dangerous directions – and not all of them legal.

Dahn Yoga, founded by self-proclaimed South Korean “guru” Inchil Lee in 1985, appears to little more than a New Age version of a Moonie cult – with much the same profit motive. The group disparages classical yoga poses such as “Salute to the Sun” and “Downward Facing Dog” while promoting a highly idiosyncratic meditative technique that it calls “brain respiration.” Lee claims to have 500,000 devotees practicing this technique in over 1,000 “health centers” in nine different countries. If true, that would make Lee’s growing empire one of the largest and most popular yoga movements in the world.

Dahn’s largest US following appears to be among college students at elite universities – impressionable youth with wealthy parents. The group’s “campus recruiters” typically invite students to Dahn-sponsored musical events which end with a free initiation into brain respiration. Before long, many of these students have maxed out their parents’ credit cards to support Lee and his organization, in exchange for little more than the promise of “eternal bliss.” Last year, in the US alone, Dahn Yoga grossed an estimated $30 million in revenue.

Lee’s own bliss may not prove so eternal. Last June, 26 former members of Dahn Yoga in Arizona filed a lawsuit against him and Dahn Yoga claiming the group had bilked them out of their personal fortunes and regularly subjected them to physical hardship and abuse, including, in some cases, sexual abuse. One former member, 21-year-old Jessica Harrelson, provided a graphic account of being summoned by Lee to a private “audience” – an enormous honor, apparently – and then “consensually” raped by Lee over several days. Despite efforts by Lee’s lieutenants to hush her into silence, Harrelson eventually realized that she’d been abused and reported Lee to the authorities.

Similar suits against Dahn Yoga have been filed in several other jurisdictions - the latest, in Washington, DC, charging Lee with violations of federal racketeering laws as well as civil fraud. But Lee and Dahn Yoga remain completely unfazed by the controversy. In a series of television and print interviews, Lee has attacked his critics, branding them “liars” and confidently predicting that his movement would be vindicated. And thus far, nearly all of his US centers remain open.

The same air of arrogant defiance surrounds Bikram Choudhury, another self-styled guru based in Beverly Hills, CA whose “Bikram Yoga” centers – “franchises,” in fact - are even more popular than Dahn’s. Choudury, a multi-millionaire who prides himself on his collection of 35 antique Rolls Royces and Bentleys, claims to have 500 million adherents – a preposterous claim, even on its face - and 6,000 Bikram teachers worldwide. He is especially fond of being carried into class on a special raised platform and treated like a Sultan. In public interviews he has compared himself to Buddha and Christ, while criticizing other US-based yoga movements as “frauds” and ridiculing their teachers as “circus clowns.”

Several years ago, Choudury caused a stir in yoga circles by moving to patent the sequence of 86 yoga postures that are taught in his Bikram franchises. Critics noted that nearly all of these postures are 5,000 years old and disputed the idea that anyone could try to “own” them, legally or spiritually. Choudury, with characteristic élan, has dismissed his critics as “jealous” and has even threatened to sue other yoga movements if they try to copy “his” ideas.

And then there’s the case of Rodney Yee, the infamous “yogi to the stars” whom Time magazine once dubbed the “perfect stud muffin.” Yee spent years extolling the virtues of marital fidelity and has earned a small fortune promoting his fast-selling yoga videos – now 30 in all. But in 2004, after a bitter business dispute with his long-time aide, word leaked out that Yee had engaged in serial affairs with his female students. Yee’s wife, who apparently had a different view of marital fidelity, quickly divorced Yee and took their three kids.

It wasn’t just the affairs, which Yee admitted to, that seemed so alarming to some – it was Yee’s suggestion that because of the “sense of love” that “naturally develops” between teachers and their students, he really couldn’t be expected to abide by traditional professional boundaries. The California Yoga Association, one of yoga’s few self-regulating bodies, disagrees. It explicitly recommends against yoga teachers and students establishing close personal and sexual relationships. But many long-established yoga teachers – and therapists - have admitted in published interviews (usually without attribution) that such relationships are rampant in the new yoga culture – and frequently quite damaging.

In fact, there seems to be something at the very core of the new yoga movement – a spiritual defiance bordering on narcissism – that prevents its most ardent promoters from honestly examining themselves and their motives, let alone holding their organizations and teachers to account.

Some yogis complain that they are being held to a different standard than martial arts instructors, who are usually exempt from state vocational guidelines also. But martial arts schools and instructors are subject to strict credentialing standards, and private martial arts associations are often licensed by states to decertify martial arts organizations and instructors that fail to meet the grade. No such standards are in place for yoga.

There’s also the age factor. While some of the highly-publicized yoga controversies involve adult men, the vast majority of the new yoga teachers are young women, many of them still in their 20s, highly impressionable, and without much “seasoning” in life, let alone yoga. For every yogi who thinks of himself as a “demigod,” there are probably 10-15 “yoginis” who fancy themselves up-and-coming “goddesses” and “priestesses.” Having two dozen students, most of them a generation older than you, seeking your “guidance,” and hanging on your every word, can be a powerful “head trip.”

It can also be lucrative. Some full-time teachers haul in $8-10,000 a month teaching yoga, a tidy sum for someone with - at most - a B.A., who might otherwise be pet walking or waitressing, or toiling away in an office for a meager salary. Veteran teachers who also run workshops and tours, or like Rodney Yee, become nationally-known yoga celebrities, can easily make 2-3 times that amount.

How much of the new yoga movement is actually concerned with spiritual enlightenment? By appearances at least, not that much. In the old days, yoga traditions and practices – and the life wisdom that went with them - were handed down slowly over many years, usually from men to other men.

But in today’s instant culture, no one’s prepared to wait that long for Nirvana. Moreover, much of the growing consumer base for yoga is mainstream women who are not only deeply materialistic – but also deeply conscious of their age. While seeking a measure of sanity in their fast-paced lives, yoga’s promise of youthful vigor, flexibility, weight loss, and even beauty, can be highly appealing – even addictive. And yoga’s also a highly feminized culture – it’s primarily women teaching women. For some that holds an added, unspoken benefit: “Sisterhood.”

In the final analysis, women of leisure – and of course, men, too - will spend their time and money as they see fit. And the growing efforts of state governments to bring yoga under state vocational training guidelines are unlikely to create the kind of public accountability that the yoga business still needs. But the push for state regulation is surely a step in the right direction. If nothing else, it may lead the yoga industry to take stronger steps to regulate itself, rather than acting as if everything it does is somehow “Divinely inspired” – and therefore, spiritually “exempt.”

In the meantime, for consumers at least, it’s still “buyer beware.”

Stewart J. Lawrence is a Washington, DC-based freelance writer who has practiced yoga for many years. He can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com.

This article was found at:



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Federal racketeering complaint latest law suit against Dahn Yoga cult

Dahn Yoga cult leader enriched by deceptive, manipulative and abusive practices faces lawsuits by survivors

Lawsuit by former employees alleges Dahn Yoga business is a deceptive, abusive cult

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Italian leader of new-age sect arrested for sexually abusing young girls and their mothers



  1. Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here

    By WILLIAM J. BROAD New York Times February 27, 2012

    The wholesome image of yoga took a hit in the past few weeks as a rising star of the discipline came tumbling back to earth. After accusations of sexual impropriety with female students, John Friend, the founder of Anusara, one of the world’s fastest-growing styles, told followers that he was stepping down for an indefinite period of “self-reflection, therapy and personal retreat.”

    Mr. Friend preached a gospel of gentle poses mixed with openness aimed at fostering love and happiness. But Elena Brower, a former confidante, has said that insiders knew of his “penchant for women” and his love of “partying and fun.”

    Few had any idea about his sexual indiscretions, she added. The apparent hypocrisy has upset many followers.

    “Those folks are devastated,” Ms. Brower wrote in The Huffington Post. “They’re understandably disappointed to hear that he cheated on his girlfriends repeatedly” and “lied to so many.”

    But this is hardly the first time that yoga’s enlightened facade has been cracked by sexual scandal. Why does yoga produce so many philanderers? And why do the resulting uproars leave so many people shocked and distraught?

    One factor is ignorance. Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.

    Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra. In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness.

    The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex. One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse. Candidates for worship included actresses and prostitutes, as well as the sisters of practitioners.

    Hatha originated as a way to speed the Tantric agenda. It used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts — including intercourse — to hasten rapturous bliss. In time, Tantra and Hatha developed bad reputations. The main charge was that practitioners indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality.

    Early in the 20th century, the founders of modern yoga worked hard to remove the Tantric stain. They devised a sanitized discipline that played down the old eroticism for a new emphasis on health and fitness.

    B. K. S. Iyengar, the author of “Light on Yoga,” published in 1965, exemplified the change. His book made no mention of Hatha’s Tantric roots and praised the discipline as a panacea that could cure nearly 100 ailments and diseases. And so modern practitioners have embraced a whitewashed simulacrum of Hatha.

    But over the decades, many have discovered from personal experience that the practice can fan the sexual flames. Pelvic regions can feel more sensitive and orgasms more intense.

    Science has begun to clarify the inner mechanisms. In Russia and India, scientists have measured sharp rises in testosterone — a main hormone of sexual arousal in both men and women. Czech scientists working with electroencephalographs have shown how poses can result in bursts of brainwaves indistinguishable from those of lovers. More recently, scientists at the University of British Columbia have documented how fast breathing — done in many yoga classes — can increase blood flow through the genitals. The effect was found to be strong enough to promote sexual arousal not only in healthy individuals but among those with diminished libidos.

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    In India, recent clinical studies have shown that men and women who take up yoga report wide improvements in their sex lives, including enhanced feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as well as emotional closeness with partners.

    At Rutgers University, scientists are investigating how yoga and related practices can foster autoerotic bliss. It turns out that some individuals can think themselves into states of sexual ecstasy — a phenomenon known clinically as spontaneous orgasm and popularly as “thinking off.”

    The Rutgers scientists use brain scanners to measure the levels of excitement in women and compare their responses with readings from manual stimulation of the genitals. The results demonstrate that both practices light up the brain in characteristic ways and produce significant rises in blood pressure, heart rate and tolerance for pain — what turns out to be a signature of orgasm.

    Since the baby boomers discovered yoga, the arousal, sweating, heavy breathing and states of undress that characterize yoga classes have led to predictable results. In 1995, sex between students and teachers became so prevalent that the California Yoga Teachers Association deplored it as immoral and called for high standards.

    “We wrote the code,” Judith Lasater, the group’s president, told a reporter, “because there were so many violations going on.”

    If yoga can arouse everyday practitioners, it apparently has similar, if not greater, effects on gurus — often charming extroverts in excellent physical condition, some enthusiastic for veneration.

    The misanthropes among them offer a bittersweet tribute to yoga’s revitalizing powers. A surprising number, it turns out, were in their 60s and 70s.

    Swami Muktananda (1908-82) was an Indian man of great charisma who favored dark glasses and gaudy robes.

    At the height of his fame, around 1980, he attracted many thousands of devotees — including movie stars and political celebrities — and succeeded in setting up a network of hundreds of ashrams and meditation centers around the globe. He kept his main shrines in California and New York.

    In late 1981, when a senior aide charged that the venerated yogi was in fact a serial philanderer and sexual hypocrite who used threats of violence to hide his duplicity, Mr. Muktananda defended himself as a persecuted saint, and soon died of heart failure.

    Joan Bridges was one of his lovers. At the time, she was 26 and he was 73. Like many other devotees, Ms. Bridges had a difficult time finding fault with a man she regarded as a virtual god beyond law and morality.

    “I was both thrilled and confused,” she said of their first intimacy in a Web posting. “He told us to be celibate, so how could this be sexual? I had no answers.”

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    To denounce the philanderers would be to admit years of empty study and devotion. So many women ended up blaming themselves. Sorting out the realities took years and sometimes decades of pain and reflection, counseling and psychotherapy. In time, the victims began to fight back.

    Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002) was a superstar of yoga who gave the invocation at Woodstock. In 1991, protesters waving placards (“Stop the Abuse,” “End the Cover Up”) marched outside a Virginia hotel where he was addressing a symposium.

    “How can you call yourself a spiritual instructor,” a former devotee shouted from the audience, “when you have molested me and other women?”

    Another case involved Swami Rama (1925-96), a tall man with a strikingly handsome face. In 1994, one of his victims filed a lawsuit charging that he had initiated abuse at his Pennsylvania ashram when she was 19. In 1997, shortly after his death, a jury awarded the woman nearly $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

    So, too, former devotees at Kripalu, a Berkshires ashram, won more than $2.5 million after its longtime guru — a man who gave impassioned talks on the spiritual value of chastity — confessed to multiple affairs.

    The drama with Mr. Friend is still unfolding. So far, at least 50 Anusara teachers have resigned, and the fate of his enterprise remains unclear. In his letter to followers, he promised to make “a full public statement that will transparently address the entirety of this situation.”

    The angst of former Anusara teachers is palpable. “I can no longer support a teacher whose actions have caused irreparable damage to our beloved community,” Sarah Faircloth, a North Carolina instructor, wrote on her Web site.

    But perhaps — if students and teachers knew more about what Hatha can do, and what it was designed to do — they would find themselves less prone to surprise and unyogalike distress.

    William J. Broad is the author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards,” published this month by Simon & Schuster.

    A version of this article appeared in print on February 28, 2012, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here.


  4. A Mob hitman? No, this is the world’s most famous yoga guru whose millions of followers claim his method even cures cancer

    By Tom Sykes, Daily Mail March 18, 2012

    I discovered Bikram yoga – which is practised in a room heated to exactly 40.6˚C and maintained at 40% humidity – when I was living in America about seven years ago.

    It was, to put it mildly, an anxious time in my life. I had recently given up drinking after a lifetime of over­indulgence, my wife was pregnant with our first child and my head was, to be blunt, a mess.

    A concerned friend took me to my first session in a steamy loft in New York’s SoHo.

    There were about 50 people and the room was suffocating. We were taken, twice, through a series of 26 yoga moves, combined with two breathing exercises, in a 90-minute class.

    I have never been one for hippy-dippy, new-age therapies but this was anything but ­tranquil and meditative. The instructor, known as ‘Hitler’ to his students, stood on a podium, exhorting us all to stretch harder and deeper and shouting: ‘Come on! What is wrong with you? This is beautiful Bikram weather.’

    At intervals, we would be permitted to take a small sip of very warm water.

    To my astonishment, however, Bikram yoga really worked for me and I started going two or three times a week. It was so structured, disciplined, physical and intense. There was no, ‘Close your eyes and imagine you are lying on a beach’.

    Right from the very first class, I was left exhausted and revitalised. A certain tranquillity entered my mind as the cravings for alcohol receded.

    I only gave up Bikram yoga when I returned to Ireland. Although there are now franchises in Dublin, they haven’t yet made their way down to rural Carlow.

    Like everyone who has ever practised Bikram, I had heard rumours about its founder, Bikram Choudhury, who was born in Calcutta in 1946 and moved to America in 1973 after graduating as a Yogi Raj (King of the Yogis).

    Each studio pays a fee to Bikram for the right to use ‘his’ sequence of poses. He has estimated his earnings at anything up to $10m a month and claims seven million adherents.

    Critics say he has copyrighted poses that are part of the Vedic tradition, that Bikram is merely clever marketing, applying the franchise model to yoga, and that the notion of yoga in a warm, humid place is not new.

    However, the regime inspires devotion in its followers, who claim it not only keeps the mind and body in top condition but cures anything from the common cold to cancer.

    So when he came to Dublin last weekend, I was keen to see what the man behind the phenomenon was really like.

    I didn’t expect him to show up in a monk’s cowl but nothing could have prepared me for his appearance when he strides through the doors of the UCD lecture theatre in which 400 of us – at €60 a head – are assembled. In his shiny silver suit and glossy loafers, his hair in a pony tail, he jumps onto the stage. The clapping subsides.

    ‘Shut up!’ says Bikram to nervous laughter. The messiah is not ready to start yet. He paces around the stage, complains about the lay-out, then looks up. He seems to notice us for the first time.

    ‘Which city am I in?’

    ‘Dublin,’ calls back someone from the crowd.

    ‘Dublin. Where is Dublin?’


    ‘Ireland? Oh. You’re not from England are you?’ Less laughter this time.

    ‘Did you pay to come here and listen to me? Wow! I am lucky. I go shopping tomorrow! No, tomorrow my flight is at 9 o’clock. Yesterday I was in Madrid, before, Pisa, one day before Amsterdam, one day before… who knows?’

    He pauses to take a sip of hot water and honey and spits it out in a ­dramatic show of disgust. His voice is angry: ‘Who made this for me? Who made this for me?’ An acolyte in the front row meekly raises her hand.

    ‘Are you married?’


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    ‘Don’t even take a chance. If you make water like this and get married, your marriage will not last three weeks. You should not learn yoga, learn how to cook! You know why women get divorced in America? Why you guys get divorced in the western world and, in India, no divorce? From 10 years old, mothers teach their daughters how to cook. You are the lousiest cooks in the world. The best cooking you do is to make a reservation in the restaurant.’

    The tirade, combined with the extraordinary appearance, sets the crowd on edge. It’s a strange way to start a lecture. But Bikram has been doing this a long time. Upturning expectations is part of his schtick.

    And now comes the pitch: ‘I sell the highest-selling product in the world of all time. My customers are almost seven million people. So whatever problem in your life, financial problems, you lose your business, your job is no good, come and talk to me. I will make you rich overnight.

    ‘How? Just go to the Bikram torture chamber, the hot room.

    ‘Over the last two years, the economy has gone downhill but my business is up 65%. Why? Because I sell life.’

    This is to be the first of many references to Bikram’s wealth; his sports cars, his house in Beverly Hills, his swimming pool, the fact that we are all paying to see him.

    ‘I’m not dressed like a guru am I? I dress like a gangster. Like Robert De Niro. I am more westernised than any western man you have ever met,’ he says. It’s hard to disagree.

    He tells us he ‘likes money’, he swears, he drops names of the rich and famous he has treated and cured – Reagan, Nixon, Thatcher, Clinton… He then breaks an extraordinary confidence concerning Reagan’s relationship with his daughter, Patti.

    ‘Reagan was so stupid. It was amazing this man could ever be president. He said to me, “What’s wrong, Bikram: 33 years and she never listens to me, my Patti? She hates her father so much she doesn’t call herself Patti Reagan but Patti Davis, her mother’s name?”

    ‘I said, “Mr President, you raised her a bitch. I’m a guru, I make her a human being, I make her a woman, I make her a daughter, I make her a girl, I make her a lady.” After eight months, she was completely transformed.’

    At core, Bikram’s message – that yoga will connect you to a more spiritual way of life – makes sense. But the relentless selling is quite extraordinary and the claims become more outlandish and even irresponsible.

    ‘I offer to keep you alive for 100 years at least. Parkinson disease? I cure. I can cure anything. Don’t believe me? Ask Quincy Jones – 40 years ago he had a brain tumour, an aneurysm. They operate. It looks like he is dead, no chance. For 20 years I bring him to my class. Quincy Jones is perfect. The doctor is dead. Why? Because he never did yoga.’

    He says the Thriller album, which Quincy Jones produced, is dedicated to him. I check this later. It is true that Bikram is thanked on the liner notes. Along with about a hundred others. Thriller recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. It is remarkable Bikram is still trading off this mention.

    He keeps coming back to material things. The human body is like a sports car, he says, and segues neatly into another rant: ‘If you want to enjoy a $400,000 Aston Martin, come to me. I leave my home at 1 o’clock at night. I drive my car down Highway 10, to Palm Springs, then I take a left turn, onto Highway 15, towards Las Vegas, and when I am past Death Valley, in sixth gear, and the engine is producing 750hp and the speed­ometer is going from 380 to 400kph, then you are driving a Lamborghini! That’s called life, you idiot!’

    He is as unappealing as his system is beneficial. Discover it for yourself at dublincitybikramyoga.com.


  6. Operator of yoga studio to be sued for spiritual sales

    The Mainichi, Japan July 16, 2012

    OKAYAMA -- Two women are set to sue the operator of a yoga studio and its executives for allegedly threatening them with "possession by evil spirits" and bad fortune unless they handed over massive amounts of cash.

    The suit is set to be filed with the Okayama District Court by two women, one from the city Okayama and the other from the city of Hiroshima, against Dahn World Japan Corp. -- operator of Ilchi Brain Yoga, also known as Dahn Yoga -- for approximately 56 million yen in damages. The suit alleges the company attracted the women to their studios through free trial lessons, and subsequently forced them to keep coming back by fueling emotional and health concerns.

    The Hiroshima woman alleges that after she joined an Ilchi studio in 2006, she was told her luck would deteriorate if she did not listen to the staff. The woman was eventually forced to pay over 15 million yen to open a new yoga studio.

    The woman in Okayama joined an Ilchi studio in 2008, after which staff allegedly told her that she would have bad fortune if she did not hold memorial services for her ancestors. They allegedly took almost 32 million yen from her in donations.

    The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales says many complaints have been brought against Dahn World Japan. According to the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan (NCAC), 305 complaints regarding the company, including "being recruited to sign up for expensive courses," had been lodged by May of this year.

    "This is a case of 'spiritual sales' under the guise of yoga training," says Hidemasa Kawada, a National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales member based in Okayama Prefecture. Kawada says there have been many similar lawsuits in both the United States and South Korea.

    Officials from Dahn World Japan Corp., the Japanese arm of the South Korean company Dahn World Co., have declined to comment, saying they have yet to receive the complaint. Dahn World Japan operates 100 yoga studios around Japan, with 23 studios in Tokyo alone.


  7. Hot Yoga Guru Faces Sexual Harassment Charges

    By Samantha Riley ABC News March 22, 2013

    The founder of Bikram yoga is in the hot seat once again.

    Bikram Choudhury is the pioneer of the widely successful “hot yoga.” He teaches his 26-pose sequence in sweltering 105 degree temperatures. In a recent twist, however, student Sarah Baughn is suing him for sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment.

    The complaint states that Baughn was discriminated against as a woman because she did not submit to Choudhury’s “repeated demands for sex, and because she successfully fought him off when he sexually assaulted her.” Baughn claims that because of her repeated refusal, she also was hindered professionally and was denied the judge-determined title of yoga’s International Champion in 2008.

    “He’s affirmatively tried to block her from progressing in her career because she stood up for herself and rebuffed him,” explained Baughn’s lawyer, Mary Shea Hagebols.

    Choudhury did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment. In an interview with ABC News’ David Wright last fall, Choudhury said, “Women in the world love me, because I take care of the women. … But yogi is supposed to be yogi. They cannot involve with women. And I did pretty good for all my life.”

    Baughn first met Choudhury in the spring of 2005 when she attended his teacher training course in Los Angeles with 300 students. She first regarded Choudhury as a hero who changed her life but claims that she then noticed he chose some women as favorites to brush his hair and massage his body.

    During the course, Choudhury allegedly flirted with Baughn by telling her that they had known each other in a past life and that they had a strong, meaningful connection. The complaint claims that he asked her, “What should we do about this? Should we make this a relationship?… I have never, never felt this way about anyone. Only you.”

    During this training, while Choudhury was, according to the complaint, “pretending to assist her, he pushed her down toward the floor after pulling her arm and leg apart and opening her body. Defendant Bikram Choudhury then pressed his body into hers, and began whispering sexual things to her until she collapsed into sobs.”

    Choudhury also allegedly pulled Baughn’s leg during a yoga posture, causing her to tear her hamstring.

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  8. Bikram yoga, which Choudhury started in the 1970s, is extremely popular and has more than 350 studios in the United States, plus hundreds throughout the world. Because of its popularity, Choudhury has a large fan base and frequently hosts seminars to hundreds of students.

    Hagebols describes this kind of niche stardom as an excuse for Choudhury to exploit young women. “These girls are young. … He seems to have a hold over them that’s not unlike what you see in some of the religious cases. They see him as some spiritual leader, and there’s a control that happens.”

    This is not the first time the self-proclaimed “most respected living yoga guru in the world” has found himself in the midst of controversy.

    In 2012, he sued former protégé and Yoga to the People founder Greg Gumucio for teaching his methods without permission. The Bikram franchise is a trademark with a copyrighted routine. At the time, Gumucio told “Nightline,” “Here you have this traditional knowledge that’s been around for 5,000 years. … It’s kind of like if Arnold Schwarzenegger said I’m going to do five bench presses, six curls, seven squats, call it ‘Arnold’s Work’ and nobody can show that or teach that without my permission. That’s crazy to me.”

    The case ended in a settlement, and the two parties told “Nightline” that Yoga to the People, located in New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif., would no longer teach what is known as Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class.

    Choudhury was also the subject of controversy in 2010, when then student Pandhora Williams claimed that Bikram made derogatory comments about women and homosexuals. The case goes to trial April 29.


  9. Witness: Yoga is inherently religious

    By Gary Warth, The San Diego Union-Tribune MAY 21, 2013

    The trial concerning the legality of a public-school yoga program in Encinitas continued Tuesday, with testimony from a religious scholar who said the curriculum remains religious despite efforts to strip away any spiritual elements.

    “I see it all over the place,” Candy Brown said when asked if she sees religious aspects to the yoga program in the Encinitas Union School District.

    The district introduced yoga as a pilot program in 2011 and expanded it to all nine of its schools in January. Funding comes from the KP Jois Foundation, which champions a style of yoga called Ashtanga.

    Yoga is part of the campuses’ physical-education offerings, and district officials said students are simply doing stretching exercises with no religious connections. Families uncomfortable with the exercises can have their students opt out.

    Some parents said the district should not offer yoga at all because its religious roots can never be eliminated. Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock are suing the district in San Diego Superior Court; they’re being represented by attorney Dean Broyles, president of the Escondido-based National Center for Law & Policy.

    Brown, a professor at Indiana University, began her second day on the witness stand Tuesday morning by recalling the origins of Ashtanga yoga and how they have been modified in Encinitas schools. Quoting from the KP Jois Foundation’s literature and referring to her own research, Brown said the very act of performing yoga moves can be considered religious.

    “The purpose of Ashtanga yoga is to become one with Brahma,” she said, referring to a Hindu deity.

    Brown also said there is no distinction between the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga. Children in the district’s program do not chant or use terms associated with Hinduism, but Brown said that does not make the yoga secular.

    “Jois is very, very clear that the practice may appear physical, but that is very, very wrong,” she said. “It produces spiritual transformation.”

    Citing written statements from teachers in the district, Brown said there is evidence that some children have chanted while performing poses. Judge John Meyer suggested that those students may have learned the chants outside of school, but Brown said it still demonstrates that they have an understanding of yoga’s spiritual ties.

    Brown also said there is anecdotal evidence that even conservative Christians who begin practicing yoga and have no interest in other faiths gradually begin to accept that all religions are equal.

    The trial was originally expected to last two days, but is now expected to continue today.


  10. Public school yoga is not religious, says Calif. Judge

    CBS News / AP July 1, 2013

    SAN DIEGO A judge is allowing a San Diego-area school district to teach yoga, rejecting the claims of disgruntled parents who called it an effort to promote Eastern religion.

    Yoga is a religious practice, but not the way that it is taught by the Encinitas Union School District at its nine campuses, San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer said in Monday's ruling.

    Meyer said the school district stripped classes of all cultural references including the Sanskrit language. He noted that the lotus position was renamed the "crisscross applesauce" pose.

    The judge said that the opponents of the yoga class were relying on information culled from the Internet and other unreliable sources.

    "It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does," Meyer said.

    An attorney for the parents, Dean Broyles, said he will likely appeal.

    "It was the judge's job to call balls and strikes and determine the facts. I think he got some of the facts wrong," he said.

    In the lawsuit Broyles argued that the twice weekly, 30-minute classes are inherently religious, in violation of the constitutional separation between church and state.

    The Encinitas district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools.

    The lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Asthanga yoga.

    The plaintiffs were Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their children, who are students in the district.

    Superintendent Timothy B. Baird said since the district started the classes in January, teachers and parents have noticed students are calmer, using the breathing practices to release stress before tests.

    "We're not teaching religion," he told The Associated Press. "We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it."

    The lawsuit did not seek monetary damages but asked the court to intervene and suspend the program.

    The lawsuit noted Harvard-educated religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown found the district's program is pervasively religious, having its roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices.

    Children who have opted out of the program have been harassed and bullied, the plaintiffs said.

    Yoga is now taught at public schools from the rural mountains of West Virginia to the bustling streets of Brooklyn as a way to ease stress in today's pressure-packed world where even kindergartners say they feel tense about keeping up with their busy schedules. But most classes are part of an after-school program, or are offered only at a few schools or by some teachers in a district.

    The Jois Foundation says it believes the program will become a national model to help schools teach students life skills.


  11. Bikram yoga founder facing allegations of rape now accused of racism, misogyny, homophobia and running his company 'like a cult'

    By ALEX GREIG, Daily Mail UK August 7, 2013

    The creator of a popular style of yoga was recently hit with two lawsuits alleging rape; now there's a third suit against the yogi accusing him of racism, misogyny, sexual harassment, homophobia and threats of violence.

    Bikram Choudhury, 67, who runs an international 'hot yoga' chain, is being sued by his former legal adviser Minakshi Jaffa-Bodden, who claims in papers filed on June 13 that he threatened to have her and her eight-year-old daughter deported.

    Jaffa-Bodden is being represented by Carla Minnard, a civil rights attorney, who says her client was one of the few to stand up to Bikram Choudhury and as a result, was forced by the yogi to resign.

    According to Jaffa-Bodden's suit, Choudhury then unlawfully took possession of her company car and evicted her and her daughter from the home the company had provided for her.
    Finally, Choudhury himself threatened to challenge Jaffa-Bodden's green card application.

    'There’s a great desire to keep Bikram’s conduct in the dark,' Minnard told The Huffington Post.

    'It shows an inability by anyone to restrain an individual who is a dangerous person.'

    Jaffa-Bodden was working at Choudhury's LA-based Yoga College of India when she was made aware of allegations of sexual assaults that took place during Choudhury's training conferences.

    According to the Huffington Post, when Jaffa-Bodden attempted to investigate the alleged assaults, she was told it would be 'best' that she 'not look into it any further'.

    When she ignored this advice, she was subject to intimidation by Choudhury and other employees.

    Finally, she says, she was forced to sign a letter of resignation in March 2013 under the threat of what she inferred to be physical violence from Bikram Choudhury.

    Jaffa-Bodden believes it was her vocal objection to Choudhury's behavior that resulted in her forced resignation.

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  12. She believes this was punishment for her objections to Choudhury’s conduct. Jaffa-Bodden's suit alleges the yoga school's environment was one of rampant misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexual harassment and threats of violence.

    'She did try to stop what she felt was illegal, immoral conduct,' Minnard told The Huffington Post.

    'They threatened to have her and her eight-year-old daughter deported.'

    The suit alleges Choudhury, who has likened himself to Superman and Buddha, was racist, homophobic and mysogynistic.

    Jaffa-Bodden alleges Choudhury referred to female employees and other women as 'bitches' and was blatantly homophobic.

    'AIDS is caused by gays, it is the truth, but these f*****g a**hole guys love me, they love Bikram,' he is reported to have said.

    The suit also claims that Choudhury treated African-American students differently than others, saying, 'these blacks just don’t get my yoga.'

    Giving credence to Jaffa-Bodden's claims are two cases brought against Bikram Choudhury alleging rape, sexual harassment and human trafficking in May.

    According to those suits Choudhury has 'a propensity to sexually assault young women'.

    The two suits, filed by women named only as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 in an LA court, accuse Choudhury and Bikram Yoga College of India of sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment and other counts.

    A third case, brought in March by Sarah Baughn, 29, alleges Choudhury sexually harassed her and then sabotaged her career as a yoga teacher when she turned down his advances.

    Bikram Choudhury was born in Calcutta, where he began practicing yoga at the age of three.

    He claims to have taught yoga to presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton and has a legion of celebrity fans including Lady Gaga, Madonna, Jennifer Aniston and tennis champion Andy Murray.

    In his new book, Hell-Bent, about his experiences with Bikram yoga, author Benjamin Lorr described Choudhury as 'an overgrown child and chronic liar with a penchant for emotional abuse.'

    His style of yoga, known as Bikram, is a series of 26 yoga poses performed in rooms heated to over 100F.


  13. Bikram Yogas Embattled Founder

    The Alleged Rapes and Sexual Harassment Claims Against Guru Bikram Choudhury

    by Vanity Fair DECEMBER 5 2013

    Bikram Choudhury’s eponymous brand of hot yoga has drawn thousands of fans. But in just the last year, writes Vanity Fair contributor Benjamin Wallace in the January issue, five women have filed lawsuits against Choudhury, with charges ranging from rape to sexual harassment.
    Most of the plaintiffs tell similar stories. Choudhury allegedly singled out a naïve young woman for attention, groomed her with talk of her cosmic specialness, made progressively more sexual overtures, and responded to rejection with angry threats:

    Jane Doe 2 tells Wallace that at first she was flattered that Choudhury DH paid her special attention when she attended one of his twice-yearly teacher trainings in September 2010, for which her boyfriend had paid $10,900. Choudhury told her after one class, “There were hundreds of bodies in that room tonight but you were the only one that listened to me.” But she says his advances quickly escalated: he held her after class one day and asked her to move to L.A. to work at his studio. “I can see something inside of you that no one else can,” he allegedly told her. “You will be greater than Mother Teresa, but you have to follow me. You have to do everything I tell you to do.” He gripped her hand and stared at her. “I am your guru,” he said. “I am your god…. Without me, you will be a piece of gold undiscovered and covered in dirt.” Another night, according to her lawsuit, he again pressed his case for her to come and work for him, asking that she come up to his room to talk. He assured her they would not be alone, but as soon as they entered his room, she realized her mistake. They were alone. When she started to walk out, according to her suit, he began crying and begging her to “save” him, and forced himself on her.

    Sarah Baughn tells Wallace that she took her first Bikram yoga class in 2004, and made a rapid ascent in the competitive-yoga world, placing second in both the nationals and internationals in 2006. When she attended Choudhury’s teacher training, she was flattered by the guru’s attention, but also found it uncomfortable. She says he kept her after class, told her they knew each other from a past life, and kissed her on the cheek. On the fifth day of training, according to the lawsuit filed this past March by Baughn, Choudhury called her into his office and said, “Should we make this a relationship?” Shocked, she says, she protested and made her way out of the office. Later, at the 2008 national championships, she tied for first place, but at the internationals the next day, she came in second, despite what she believed was a clear victory. According to the lawsuit, one of the judges told Baughn that all the judges had scored her as the winner, and another judge told a teacher who frequently volunteered at Choudhury’s headquarters that Choudhury had overruled the judges’ decision. Baughn was later offered the opportunity to assist at one of the 2008 training camps, where Choudhury’s harassment became physical as he pushed her against a door and groped her. Despite her abilities, Baughn alleges that Choudhury wouldn’t permit her to teach advanced seminars, and that his office contacted studios that had scheduled her to teach and discouraged them from allowing it.

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  14. Larissa Anderson found Bikram yoga emotionally healing, she tells Wallace, and through her then boyfriend grew close to the Choudhury family. One night after dining with the family at their home, Anderson says, Choudhury asked her to give him a massage while he watched a Bollywood movie. Eventually, she says, she started to nod off from fatigue, but Choudhury asked her to stay, then tried to kiss her. She said no, but Choudhury persisted and raped her, according to her suit. Over the next five years, she remained in the Bikram community and came to believe that “her life would be over” if she left. But she kept her distance from Choudhury until she assisted at a teacher training in 2011. While giving him a massage in his suite, Anderson found herself suddenly left alone with him, and her suit alleges he kept asking her to massage higher up his leg, eventually saying, “Are you sure you don’t want to sleep with me tonight?” Her suit also claims that he pressed his body into hers against the wall as she repeatedly rebuffed him. Finally, she was able to leave. According to her lawsuit, after that, he wouldn’t list her studio on his Web site or otherwise promote it, in violation of the affiliation agreement she’d signed. Anderson says she has experienced “PTSD, anxiety, and depression” as a result of Choudhury’s actions.

    Choudhury’s former in-house counsel, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, filed a suit earlier this year alleging, among other things, discrimination, sexual harassment, and defamation. Jafa-Bodden alleges that before firing her Choudhury intimated that she should pressure a witness in a suit to stay silent, discussed having a federal judge who’d ruled against Choudhury “taken out,” and wanted her to falsely accuse a male studio owner of sexual misconduct, including being a “rapist.”

    Jane Doe 1, like Jane Doe 2, filed suit early last May. Choudhury insisted at the fall teacher training in 2011 that he had a “gift” for her, a “transmission,” because they “thought the same.” Another night soon after, she says, he told her, “I have never met someone who had a mind quite like my guru. You have the divine in you. You have been touched by God.” One morning, according to her suit, while doing her duty of tidying his suite and making sure there was fresh fruit, Choudhury surprised her and forced her onto the bed, then raped her.

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  15. In outward appearance, Choudhury is a flashy showboat who wears crocodile shoes and gangster fedoras. He owns dozens of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, and the like (including Howard Hughes’s Royal Daimler, with a toilet in back), and lives in an 8,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion seemingly built entirely from gold, stone, and mirrors. He claims to sleep only two hours a night, and he is given to swaggering pronouncements—e.g., “I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 mega-tons each. Nobody fucks with me.”

    Choudhury regularly makes outlandish, non-F.D.A./F.T.C.-approved claims for his yoga. Wallace reports that in a 2012 sworn-testimony video, and therefore under penalty of perjury, Choudhury claims that Harvard University is erecting a “Bikram building in their campus.” Kevin Galvin, a spokesperson for Harvard University, responds, “We checked with our capital-projects group and can confirm that no new ‘building’ in the usual sense of that term is under construction funded by Mr. Choudhury or by a donation in his name.”

    A handful of studios, including Larissa Anderson’s, have dropped Bikram from their names. “It’s just really clear that there’s some serious issues going on, and I didn’t want to be part of it,” says one studio owner who says she found it distasteful to brush Choudhury’s hair when she attended teacher training, and who decided to rename her studio after the Baughn suit was filed. Then, when the three other suits were filed, she decided to phase Bikram yoga out of her curriculum altogether. “When more of the sexual allegations came out, I couldn’t teach the series anymore and so I started slowly taking the classes away. I can’t call myself a yoga teacher and then protect Bikram and put money in his pocket.”

    Tony Sanchez, an original Bikram protégé who now teaches his own brand of yoga outside Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, takes a longer view. “I think Bikram was a different person at the beginning,” Sanchez says. “He had a lot of intentions to help people. I believe what happened is, along the way, he had too many disappointments with people who were not loyal to him, including me. After he dismissed me, and I didn’t grovel back and cry, he was disappointed. And I believe it’s like the skinny person who finds himself eating a lot of junk food, and eventually that person becomes an obese person. Bikram was spiritually pure and all of that, and then he found himself with so many opportunities to fail, to succeed, and he took them all, and eventually he became an obese person with all his karmic shit that he has to deal with.”

    (Choudhury declined to be interviewed to respond to questions.)


  16. Has the yoga community enabled predators?

    by Alice Williams, Daily Life, Australia February 6, 2014

    The ‘G’ word has long become obsolete in the yoga world. We’re much too smart to fall for ‘gurus’ and their connotations of sex cults, brainless devotees and robes so fugly they need a whole new colour wheel to describe. Besides, we don’t need gurus when we now have ‘super teachers’, ‘head of lineages’, and ‘founder of X-style yoga’.

    The terms may have changed, yet the game remains very much the same. Match a charismatic teacher with eager and often vulnerable students, add a touch of human ego and just enough mysticism that students won’t question any dodgy practices too closely. Wait a few years, then watch the whole thing end up in court cases and recriminations.

    The latest ‘don’t call them gurus’ to end up in hot water are Bikram Choudhury, head of Bikram yoga, and John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga, one of the fastest growing styles of yoga in the west. Last year five separate cases were filed against Bikram by former teachers, accusing him of rape, harassment, assault, discrimination and false imprisonment. In the Anusara case, John Friend has been accused of mismanaging company finances, using tantric sexual practices to order to ‘heal’ a student with whom he was having a relationship, and misusing his power in creating a Wiccan coven (which he named ‘Blazing Solar Flames’) with three female employees. The coven’s practices involved ‘sexually charged rituals’ which were meant to serve as a ‘battery’ powering up the Anusara enterprise. “It was certainly never the way that I had experienced Wicca,” former coven member ‘Melissa’ told Daily Beast.

    There’s something depressingly same-same about the cases. Bikram and Friend’s communities implicitly gave them messiah-like status, accepting behaviour they would no doubt otherwise deem inappropriate (during Bikram’s nine-week intensive teacher training it was considered a high honour to be asked back to his room to massage him, wash his feet and brush his hair). Teachers in both the Bikram and Anusara lineages have been quick to minimise the charges of abuse of trust. “We could focus on the shadow or we could focus on the good John has done for the world. People have been redeemed for doing a lot worse,” said one Anusara teacher. In the Bikram cases, complainants were all encouraged by members of Bikram’s inner circle to ‘focus on the good he’s done’ and ‘know that that’s just Bikram being Bikram’.

    Reading over details of the cases, it’s alarming to see how much power was given to the perpetrators. The complainants in the Bikram cases were deeply invested in the community both spiritually and financially, and it’s not difficult to imagine the hurt and confusion the women involved must have felt in coming forward. But abuse can flourish when a community unquestioningly hand power over to a teacher. In the Anusara case, the women involved all consensually took part in the rituals, and yet their unquestioning faith in their teacher made them doubt that anything untoward could be happening. One of the original coven members said that ‘she was initially open to the experience, in part because of her intimate relationship with Friend and because of her confidence in him as a leader and teacher. “A teacher’s voice is so deeply engrained in your brain, and you implicitly trust them because that’s what helps you do great things in your practice.”’[Daily Beast]

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  17. But where does responsibility lie with the students? ‘Tim’ a senior teacher in the Anusara lineage, trained with John Friend and teaches in Melbourne, told me that there are circumstances that allow it to happen from both parties. “While it’s up to the teacher to recognise the power differential – if a student is vulnerable, if there’s a lack of self-worth, that can be played upon – but students can be very quick to hand their power over to someone else,” he says. “Students need to recognise that all teachers are human, and not be too quick to attach a god-like status. People put John Friend on a pedestal, but in his defence although he didn't discourage it, he never claimed to be a guru. He always reminded us that the guru was inside us. His ‘fall from grace’ really showed his humanness and that when the ego buys into the adoration it can quickly corrupt the higher vibrations.”

    What seems to be missing in all of this is healthy discernment. In a lot of ways it’s much easier to hand complete authority to someone else – it makes the messiness and pain out of figuring stuff out for ourselves. And this can be rewarded – from my own experience in the yoga community, I have seen how spiritual advancement can become intertwined with unquestioning acquiescence. I have felt incredibly uncomfortable to be in rooms full of people unquestioningly handing authority to a teacher on the stage, where it feels impertinent to challenge even the most outlandish statements. The teachers know their stuff – no question – but they’ll often claim to be teaching ‘true yoga’, not ‘this fake stuff everyone else is peddling.’ One they’ve created doubt in the minds of the students, it’s like there’s this mass agreement that red is green – no one wants to be the dummy who isn’t part of ‘real yoga’. The magic ingredient is always yoga’s long and ancient tradition, which has just enough haziness for ‘lineage holders’ to potentially exploit.

    But we need to remember that concepts like devotion and surrender are not mutually exclusive to discernment and self-trust. Yoga, after all, is just a series of practices designed to free you from physical and mental entanglements. It can be tough going, and so a good teacher is gold – you hang onto them, go out of your way to spend time with them. But a good teacher will guide you to see the strengths in yourself, rather than, as Tim says, ‘having to rely on them to get your power.’ And speaking from a teacher’s perspective, it’s helpful to remember that when students have a good class, they’re the ones who did the work – the realisations, breakthroughs are theirs, and as, at best we’re guides who hold space for it to happen. But it’s up to students to walk the fine line between devotion and discernment, surrender and susceptibility.


  18. Women Suing Hot Yoga Guru for Alleged Sexual Assault Come Forward

    By BEN NEWMAN and KARIN WEINBERG via NIGHTLINE, ABC News February 26, 2014

    The pioneer of "hot yoga" Bikram Choudhury is now under fire himself, defending his yoga empire against lawsuits brought by women claiming sexual misconduct.

    In the last year, five women have filed civil lawsuits against Bikram, one of the richest, most successful yoga gurus in the world. All five of them accuse Bikram of sexually assaulting them. Four of the women accuse him of rape.

    “He’s a sick man,” plaintiff Sarah Baughn told ABC News' "Nightline" correspondent David Wright. “I hope he gets some help.”

    Baughn was the first alleged victim to speak up, recently telling her story to Vanity Fair magazine. Her appearance on "Nightline" along with two other women pursuing lawsuits against Bikram and his Yoga College of India is the first time the alleged victims have detailed their claims on camera.

    Baughn, a former yoga champion, told "Nightline" she met Bikram in 2005 when she attended his teacher training course. The grueling nine-week course, which costs thousands of dollars, is led by Bikram and is the only way to become a Bikram yoga teacher.

    Baughn, 20 at the time, said Bikram took an immediate interest in her.

    “He told me there was a connection between the two of us that he had never felt before,” Baughn said, adding he claimed to have known her in a past life.

    “Part of me felt a little bit funny,” she added. "But still part of me felt like I might be his favorite. This is crazy!”

    Baughn said Bikram repeatedly made unwanted advances, starting by giving her the gold Rolex watch off his wrist in the middle of class just three days into training. She said she gave it back after class.

    She said Bikram later called her into his office and told her privately they should start a relationship. She said she rebuffed him and reported the incident to a teacher training staff member.

    “He said, 'He may not be a very good man, but he's a very good teacher, and as a teacher you have a lot to learn from him, you can learn a lot from him,'” Baughn said.

    “I wasn't sure what else I could do,” she said.

    Baughn said unwanted sexual advances continued even after she had rebuffed him. She said during class one day he grabbed her extended leg and leaned into her from behind.

    “He then started whispering things in my ear that no one else could hear,” she said. “Don’t you love me? Come to LA? Come be with me.”

    “He displayed me in front of everybody,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “It was so humiliating.”

    Baughn said she was determined to complete the training and that Bikram eventually appeared to get the message. She said he backed off.

    Baughn went on to compete in yoga competitions organized by USA Yoga, which was founded by Bikram’s wife, Rajashree – she is also named as a defendant in the lawsuits.

    Baughn said eventually she felt comfortable enough to visit the Bikram's Beverly Hills mansion, at her coach’s urging, for feedback on her routine.

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  19. She said once she was alone with him, he pinned her down and tried to fondle her.

    “He climbed on top of me, and he started saying it all again, that he needed somebody to love him,” She said he continued, "My wife's a bitch, and she doesn't love me. And I don't love my wife. And I need to someone to love me, to be with me, to massage me, to brush my hair, to have sex with me."

    “And he told me that the only way I could ever win the yoga competition was if I had sex with him.”

    Baughn told "Nightline" she she fought her way free. I looked him in the eye and I said, “I will never have sex with you. I don't need you to win. I'm going to do it on my own.”

    Baughn did compete in the competition in 2008 but placed second. One of the judges told ABC News that Baughn's was the strongest routine and said it's likely Bikram personally overturned the judges’ decision to award her top honors. Baughn said a different judge told her after the competition that “she was robbed.” This judge when reached by ABC News stood by the integrity of the judging and disputed ever telling Baughn that she was “robbed" of the title.

    Through their attorneys, Bikram and his company declined a request from "Nightline" for an interview and issued a statement categorically denying the allegations.

    It said: “The defendants strongly dispute the allegations at issue and intend to vindicate themselves in court. They do not intend to try this case in the media.”

    Bikram did give ABC an interview in a 2012 for a separate "Nightline" profile. At the time, there were already rumors about inappropriate contact with students and Wright asked him about them.

    “That's bull****,” Bikram said. “The hardest problem of my life, David, is staying away from women,” Bikram said. “Women like me and I have to run, city after city, country after country, all my life to stay away from the women. Yes that's the number one problem all my life.”

    He claimed that his duties as a guru demanded he resist the advances of women admirers.

    “Yogi is supposed to be yogi, they cannot get involved with women,” he said.

    Baughn insists he is lying.

    “He absolutely chases women,” she said. “He victimizes women. And someone can look him in the eye and say ‘No’ and it doesn’t matter.”

    Indeed, others are making similar accusations. Two of them spoke with "Nightline," along with their attorney Mary Shea.

    “When we filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sarah Baughn, she broke the culture of silence within the community,” Shea said. “I think that gave other women courage to stand up and be heard.”

    One of the women, Larissa Anderson, said she was once a devoted disciple and a member of Bikram's inner circle.

    “He raped me,” Anderson said.

    “We were watching a movie. And he grabbed the back of my head and he kissed me. And I pulled away, she said. “He pulled my face back to him and kissed me again and he stood up and he grabbed my hand and he walked me to the living room just next to the kitchen, and he sat me down on the couch. And he pulled up my skirt, pulled down my underwear, pulled his boxer shorts down, and had sex with me.”

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  20. She said when the alleged assault took place, Bikram’s wife and children were sleeping upstairs.

    She claims there's a pattern among the women he targets.

    “The young women who want to believe in something so badly, - he sees it,” Anderson said. “And usually it's at a time that they're trying to change their life around for the better. And those are the people he targets because they're vulnerable.”

    In her case, Anderson said, she was a recovering drug addict who had previously been the victim of rape and sexual assault.

    A third woman who spoke with "Nightline" asked that her name be withheld. In her lawsuit, in which she is identified only as Jane Doe No. 3, she claims Bikram raped her three separate times in 2010 between April and December.

    The first time, Jane Doe 3 said, was at teacher training, where she has been given a scholarship with the $7,000 fee waived.

    Jane Doe 3 told "Nightline" she viewed him as “a godly figure, like Mother Theresa” and said she got down on her knees to thank him for the scholarship.

    She said he invited her upstairs to his hotel suite, and she followed. It was there, Jane Doe 3 said, that he made his intentions clear.

    “He pulled close, and he kept saying, 'You wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me,’” Jane Doe 3 said. “He forced me on the bed and said, ‘Just one time. Your dreams wouldn't come true if it wasn't because of me.’”

    “I still couldn't bring myself to believe it happened,” she said. “I was so degraded, so ashamed."

    But Jane Doe 3 insisted that teaching yoga was still her dream, a path out of poverty, so she completed the training program and moved to Los Angeles to work at Bikram's headquarters.

    She said he acted as though the rape had never happened and she convinced herself it would never happen again.

    “He made it very professional. I'll be on the payroll, not volunteer. I believed him. I trusted him,” Jane Doe 3 said.

    But in Los Angeles, she said he raped her two more times once on the bare mattress on the floor of the apartment he provided for her, the third time at his house which, she said, she visited in her capacity as a Bikram employee.

    Jane Done 3 said at first she told no one.

    “Who would believe me? No one would. Everyone was so hypnotized by him,” she said.

    Jane Doe 3 said she was financially dependent on Bikram and believed her career as a yoga teacher was on the line. She said she kept the alleged rapes to herself until she agreed to be a part of a civil suit against Bikram.

    Like Larissa Anderson and Sarah Baughn, she did not file any police reports until several years after the alleged incidents, according to the Mary Shea, the attorney representing the women.

    The Los Angeles district attorney declined to bring any criminal charges against Bikram. All of the current cases are in civil court.

    Looking back, Anderson said she wished she had gone to the police.

    “It would've saved me years of pain,” Anderson said.

    Jane Doe 3 said, “Nobody can undo or change what happened, make up for what happened, my losses or other girls, but it can be stopped.”

    “Nobody deserves to go through this,” she said.


  21. Hot Yoga Guru Accused of Rape in Two New Lawsuits

    By Sunita Sohrabji, India West Staff Reporter May 24, 2013

    Millionaire yoga guru Bikram Choudhury has been charged with raping two female students attending his teacher training courses, in two separate lawsuits filed May 6 and 7 in Los Angeles, Calif., Superior Court.

    “Bikram is a sexual predator who violates the civil rights of women,” said one of the students in her court complaint. Both complainants said they were attacked during one of Choudhury’s teacher training courses, a nine-week, six days a week course which costs $13,000 to attend.

    In March, Choudhury was the subject of a similar lawsuit, in which former student Sarah Baughn, 20 at the time of her encounter with Choudhury, complained she had been sexually harassed by the Indian American “Hot Yoga” creator, a yoga technique popular with Hollywood celebrities. Last year, Choudhury was sued by former student Pandhora Williams, who claims the teacher demoralized her in class, calling her a “black bitch,” as he called for security to expel her from the class. Williams’ case was set to go to trial Apr. 29, but was presumably settled May 7 for an undisclosed amount, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court documents.

    In the latest case filed May 7 by Jane Doe 1 against Choudhury, the un-named former student alleged that after his personal assistant quit, Jane Doe 1 took on the unpaid role, serving as tea-maker and masseuse, among other duties. She alleged that Choudhury would verbally harass her, calling her “you idiot,” in front of a filled classroom.

    One morning, as she was tidying his room, Choudhury allegedly forced Doe 1 onto his bed, and started to take off her clothing, despite her objections, and forced himself into her, according to the court documents.

    Doe 1 escaped and tried to withdraw from the teacher training camp, but found herself trapped there, having no money to go elsewhere. At the evening lecture, Choudhury took on the topic of sex as “being just an exchange of energy,” she said in the court papers.

    Several days later, Choudhury caught her alone and once again raped her, she alleged in the lawsuit. Doe 1 left the teacher training camp with funds borrowed from her mother. Claming that she was a victim of human trafficking who deserves at least $500,000, Doe 1 is suing for an unspecified amount of compensation for emotional distress and lost earnings.

    Jane Doe 2 allegedly also caught Choudhury’s eye at a teacher training course in 2010. Characterized as a “small town girl, who only saw good in others,” Doe 2 alleged that praises on her work soon became unwanted sexual comments about her body during classes.

    Choudhury asked Doe 2 to stay behind after class one day and allegedly professed his love for her. “It’s something only my heart can explain,” Choudhury said, according to the court papers. Doe 2 brushed him off, saying she had a boyfriend she loved, but Choudhury persisted over several weeks.

    One day, the yoga teacher invited Doe 2 to his room, saying he wished to discuss a career opportunity. In the room, Choudhury pleaded, “I am all alone. I need someone to love me.” Then without warning, Choudhury pulled his student towards him and allegedly forcibly raped her, the lawsuit charges.

    After leaving the program Doe 2 said her life unraveled around her; she was severely depressed, suicidal, started drinking and taking drugs and cut off communication with everyone. She is suing Choudhury for an unspecified amount of compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional distress and lost wages.

    In a note on his Web site, Choudhury said he was “disappointed” by the earlier suit, but would offer no further comment.


  22. Women come forward with sexual assault complaints against ‘yoga cult leader’

    by Esin AŞAN, Hurriyet Daily News – ISTANBUL July 25, 2014

    While sexual assault is often considered an action committed by the predator directly forcing themselves on the victim, the chilling allegations against Turkey-based Azeri “yoga guru” Professor Akif Manaf have a twist.

    Manaf, referred to as a "grand master" after claiming to have learned yoga from Indian masters, has published many books and opened his own school, Yoga Academy, in Turkey. However, he is accused of fraud to the amount of 1 million Turkish Liras and sexual assault by many of his former students, who also claim he has become a "cult leader."

    Manaf was recently taken into custody but released, albeit with an overseas travel ban.

    In a press release, he denied all the allegations, claiming that his students had assaulted him and were using his teachings and products to make money.

    Manaf had become a national yoga phenomenon after moving to Turkey. His books have been read by many and his “yoga carnivals” were popular, especially among young women. After receiving Manaf’s instruction, many students have reportedly become dedicated to the yoga teacher, seeing him as the only guide for the correct way of living.

    Previously, a number of women filed unsuccessful lawsuits against Manaf, but victims have allegedly been too afraid to speak up publicly, with some particularly devoted students claiming that he would bring death upon people who abandoned his way. However, after the boyfriend of one of the victims made the first public complaint that started the investigation, several other alleged victims of sexual assault also began coming forward.

    Manaf is alleged to have won the victims’ unconditional devotion and convinced them to engage in sexual activity, using hypnosis and deception.

    It is claimed that Manaf made his students pay large amounts of money in order to become trainers in Yoga Academy. Some people asserted that Yoga Academy is not an actual institution and that Manaf’s PhD is fraudulent. He is also accused of hypnotizing his students and engaging in sexual intercourse with them, insisting that this would bring them “inner peace.” He isolated his students from their families, arguing that being alone was the only way to reach self-discovery.

    The teacher has also been accused of meeting with potential trainers in his office, where he applied a “special technique” that required students to massage his body and engage in sexual activities, claiming that the technique would open the students’ "chakras."

    Manaf was regarded so highly by some of his students that they would kiss his feet and fight over who would help put his shoes on and eat his leftovers.

    One victim confessed that she thought he was superhuman and that she “handed over her consciousness to him.” The woman said was too ashamed to tell her family about Manaf’s alleged assault, adding that she got a divorce after Manaf told her he had “seen” that her husband had cheated on her. The woman also said she was ashamed to have believed his words.

    Zeynep Miraç of daily Hurriyet spoke to Meltem, one of Manaf’s former students. Meltem claimed she was brainwashed and that her dedication to Manaf kept her from resisting physical abuse and his requests for sexual intercourse.

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  23. In time, she said she fell in love with him. “He first builds trust. When he saw I wouldn’t run away, he continued. In the end, it turned into physical abuse,” she said.

    Meltem said Manaf was married, but only so that he could obtain Turkish citizenship.

    “Every cult has the same methods. They shatter your standard of judgment. To them, your worldview, education and family are all unnecessary burdens,” she added.

    Meltem slowly discovered that her absolute obedience was unhealthy, after watching videos about cults and reading stories about victims of yoga cults.

    She said she felt a need to distance herself, but even then had difficulty speaking up against Manaf, only succeeding in requesting a move abroad.

    ‘Like a machine’

    Hürriyet’s Ayşe Arman spoke to the first accuser, the boyfriend of a victim, about how he understood what was happening. He told Arman that he was suspicious of how his girlfriend was turning into a machine, that she would do everything Manaf said, just like every other woman in the academy.

    “All that happened is a social tragedy. If he told them ‘kill this person, it will evolve you,’ they would do it. They are all brainwashed,” he said.

    He said the women start as yoga students but that some of them become followers of Manaf, often after attending his seminars and building a close relationship with him.

    “There are no images of what happened. However, naked videos of some of his students were found on his computer. Some of the victims are too afraid to speak up because of their families. There are others who do this voluntarily. They believe that he will give them energy, make them evolve faster. But he is deceiving them,” he said, claiming that Manaf’s titles were forged and that he had not even graduated from college.

    The accuser said he convinced many women who believed abandoning the Yoga Academy would be sufficient to escape Manaf’s clutches that it would be better to go to the police.

    Manaf has previously been the subject of accusations, but the large number of people that defended him ensured that proceedings against the teacher were not continued. Now, however, 13 people have agreed to testify against him.

    ‘I’m the one who was assaulted’

    In a press conference held July 19, Manaf said all allegations were false, saying he himsefl had been assaulted by his students.

    “They approached me, wanting to get married. They would hug, kiss and squeeze me without asking. I never said I was the chosen one. I have the ‘master’ title because I’m an expert. There is no practice of hypnosis, either,” he said.

    Manaf said the Yoga Academy was a peaceful environment that served the Turkish public.

    “My purpose is to provide invaluable information. We don’t have a private life, we just serve people. On the academy’s website, there are writings that show how happy these women are,” he said.

    He also claimed that the students that accused him had committed fraud. “I warned them. With my every warning, they threatened to blackmail me. They said, ‘Don’t meddle with this, or we will tell everyone that you harassed us,’” he said.

    Manaf was taken into custody on July 16. He was released, but is barred from leaving Turkey until the case is closed.


  24. Guru accused of sexual, physical assault of children at ashram


    HER mother thought the ashram was an idyllic place where children could roam free but Alecia Buchanan has told how the reality was something else.

    Ms Buchanan, 48, has told the child sex abuse royal commission today how her mother allowed her to live at the Satyananda Yoga Ashram at Mangrove Mountain north of Sydney from the age of 13.

    She spoke of her excitement when her hair was shaved off and she was given orange robes and became an “ashram kid.”

    Even the 4.30am wake-up, early morning yoga, physical labour and bland vegetarian food did not put her off.

    Ms Buchanan said she fell under the spell of “Shishy”, the ashram’s mother figure who lived with the guru, Swami Akhandananda Saraswati.

    A tall striking woman with penetrating eyes, Shishy is expected to give evidence to the royal commission which has heard how she procured teenage girls to have sex with the guru and had a “fierce temper” which led to her slapping the children over the face with the “full force of her hand.”

    Akhandananda died in 1997, aged 69, from alcoholism after convictions for child sexual assault were overturned because they were outside the 12-month statute of limitation.

    Ms Buchanan said she worked hard to emulate everything about Shishy.

    “I truly believed she was perfection itself and she herself encouraged all of us to mirror her image and would criticise us if we expressed different views or opinions to hers,” Ms Buchanan said.

    “I believed in her divinity which she convinced us of herself by magically manifesting desirable things like sweets.

    “I never for a second doubted her or saw through her trickery.”

    Ms Buchanan said that when she was 16, the swami asked her to leave school and work for him in the office where he began to have sex with her.

    She changed her name by deed poll to Swami Shantibodhananda Saraswati.

    But a couple of years later, Sishy suddenly packed up and fled the ashram overnight, leaving them with Akhandananda who became increasingly strange with a gun in his room and who continued to sexually assault the teenage girls.

    Ms Buchanan, who gave evidence against Akhandananda in court, said she had felt betrayed and abandoned by Shishy as well as “a sense of enormous burden and guilt that I had brought this bizarre and shameful story into” her family’s lives.

    Earlier, the Royal commission heard that while their gurus preached chastity and abstinence but behind the scenes at their isolated Mangrove Mountain ashram, children as young as three were sexually assaulted and beaten.

    Swami Akhandananda Saraswati is alleged to have beaten children with a wooden staff known as a Kundalini stick while his partner Shishy lined them up in a group from oldest to youngest and slapped them across the face one by one.

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  25. Some of the children were moved to the ashram with their parents and while they had to renounce their previous lifestyle, they also had to renounce their family ties and look upon Akhandananda and Shishy as their father and mother, counsel assisting the commission, Peggy Dwyer, said.

    While Akhandananda, who died aged 69 in Cairns in 1997, was having sex with his teenage followers, he encouraged children to spy on their parents and report back to him if they had sex when he would strike the parents with a stick as punishment because sex, even between married adults, was discouraged.

    Spiritual powers

    All this happened at what was Australia’s first ashram north of Sydney where some followers believed that Akhandananda had spiritual powers “and could look into a person’s soul and know exactly what was right for that person”, the commission was told.

    At the same time, the ashram was given tax-exempt status as a charity and the parents of some of the children signed over their pension cheques as well as legal guardianship of their children to Akhandananda and Shishy.

    Between 1981 and 1988, the couple was receiving family benefits in respect of seven children, Ms Dwyer said.

    “Within the space of a decade, the ashram grew from humble beginnings to a wealthy organisation with centres all over Australia,” Ms Dwyer said.


    The commission, sitting in Sydney, is investigating the response of the Satyananda Yoga Ashram to complaints of sexual abuse made against its former spiritual leader in the mid to late 1980s.

    In 1987, Akhandananda was charged with the sexual abuse of four children after one of them left the movement and told her father, who was a police officer.

    He was convicted of some of the offences and jailed for a minimum of 12 months but they were overturned by the High Court because there was at the time a 12-month limitation for laying child sex charges.

    The ashram was set up in 1974 on the land owned by Brian and Mary Thompson. Mr Thompson is expected to give evidence to the commission along with Shishy and nine former child victims of sex abuse.

    The ashram’s mission was to spread the message of yoga espoused by Guru Swami Satyandanda Saraswati, the spiritual head of the movement in India, who taught that those who followed him and became Sanyasins “should practice abstinence, chastity and austerity and would not clutter their minds with such worldly pleasures as sexual intercourse and alcohol,” Ms Dwyer said.

    Earlier this year as the ashram celebrated 40 years, a number of former residents posted details of the sexual abuse on the Facebook page but were sent legal letters warning of “considerable legal consequences” if they did not stop.

    The ashram is now under new management and Ms Dwyer said the commission will “explore whether the philosophy, teaching and management of the ashram is sufficiently changed from what it was in Akhandananda’s time, to ensure that children attending there are safe from the risk of abuse”.

    The hearing, which is expected to last for two weeks, continues in Sydney.


  26. Yoga handmaiden had sex with boy

    By Peter Trute, The West Australian December 5, 2014

    The "handmaiden" of a sexually abusive yoga master had sex with a 14-year-old boy only because her guru ordered her to, an inquiry has heard.

    The woman, known as Shishy, was the handmaiden, sexual partner and second-in-charge of Swami Akhandananda at the Satyananda Yoga Ashram on NSW's Central Coast during the 1970s and 1980s.

    Shishy told the child abuse royal commission on Friday that starting a sexual relationship with the boy, codenamed APQ, when she was 25 was "the most shameful thing in my life".

    She said she was instructed by Akhandananda to start initiating the boy the same way the guru had been having sex with under-age girls on the ashram.

    "It's one of the things I really resent Akhandananda for," Shishy said.

    However, the commission heard Shishy continued a sexual relationship with the boy after she left the ashram in 1985.

    The pair later had a child together and the boy lived in her house.

    Under questioning, Shishy, now in her 50s, said she did not want to start the relationship with APQ and did so only on Akhandananda's orders.

    But in 1989, after doing a "mind mash program", she realised she was in love with him.

    The commission heard Shishy gave evidence in court against Akhandananda on child abuse charges, but didn't tell detectives about her relationship with APQ.

    Early in the day's proceedings, Shishy broke down as she told the commission she was sorry for her actions at the ashram.

    Witnesses who were children at the Mangrove Mountain ashram have testified that Shishy beat them.

    Shishy also admitted she was present when Akhandananda had sex with two underaged girls at the yoga centre, but said she didn't fully appreciate his actions were wrong at the time.

    She said she couldn't recall an event one witness told of, where she allegedly lined children up from youngest to oldest and slapped them.

    She also said she couldn't recall other alleged abuses.

    However, she accepted she slapped children "very hard" and her physical discipline became more extreme as the children grew into teenagers.

    The yoga devotee, who produces chanting CDs, said she had no power at the ashram, despite accepting she was the second-in-charge.

    She broke down as she said she accepted she had caused significant trauma to children who worshipped her.

    "I deeply, deeply regret and feel quite desperately sorry for anything that I did or that I didn't do," she said.

    The commission heard Akhandananda began a sexual relationship with Shishy at an ashram in Bondi in 1974, when she was 16.

    He told her she was "a very advanced being" and "a chosen one" and she believed him, she said.

    The relationship became progressively more violent and Akhandananda's acts more sexually perverse, she said.

    Akhandananda was jailed in 1989 for indecent dealings with four girls, but was released when the High Court overturned the conviction in 1991. He died six years later.

    The hearing continues on Monday.


  27. Children were raped, beaten and drugged at Mangrove Yoga Ashram, say victims at Royal Commission into child sexual abuse

    NEWS.com.au Australia DECEMBER 11, 2014

    IN the foothills of Mangrove Mountain, some went in search of peace at a yoga ashram, instead their children were drugged, raped and beaten.

    Disturbing details have been revealed of the abuse suffered by children in the 1970s and 80s at a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse at the Mangrove Yoga Ashram on the NSW Central Coast.

    The ashram north of Sydney was founded by a disciple of the Indian guru who established the Satyananda Yoga movement, which helped spread the practice around the world.

    The commission has heard from nine witnesses, including an account last week from one victim who was stripped naked when she was seven years old and held down while the skin between her breasts was cut by a swami. He then licked the blood and had intercourse with her during an initiation ceremony.

    Some of the most shocking testimony has come from the “handmaiden” of the abusive yoga master and spiritual leader Swami Akhandananda.
    Shishy, who had legal guardianship of children at the retreat in the 1980s, was completely controlled by Swami Akhandananda, bringing young girls to the swami for sexual initiation, which she believed was for their “spiritual growth”.

    Former child residents claimed that Shishy, who was second-in-charge at the ashram, slapped them so hard it affected their hearing and eyesight and on one occasion the force slammed their heads against a wall.

    On Monday she denied this but admitted she did slap children and brought young girls to the swami for sexual initiation, which she believed was for their “spiritual growth”.

    However, Shishy said she was also the victim of shocking abuse. She told the commission that she had to drink Akhandananda’s urine as part of a traditional contraceptive method and her vagina was slashed with nail scissors. The yoga master also sexually assaulted her with a double-barrelled shotgun.

    “Violent discipline was an acceptable part of ashram discipline meted out by the gurus. It was represented as an ‘honour’ to receive slaps from the teacher/guru,” she said.

    Shishy was 14 when she met Akhandananda and went to live at the Mangrove when she was 18. She began a sexual relationship with Akhandananda when she was 16, at an ashram in Bondi in 1974. She never questioned why the supposedly celibate guru had sex with her.

    He told her that she was “a very advanced being” and “a chosen one” and she believed him, she said, but he forbade her from mentioning it to other people at the ashram.

    Shishy lived at the ashram until 1985 and during that time had two abortions — one self administered. She said Akhandananda would punish her by digging out moles with a sharp pen knife. Two of the moles were quite deep and he wouldn’t let her get medical treatment so “I stitched them myself with thin fishing wire”, she said.

    Shishy, who is now 57, told the commission that when she was 25, she had sex with a 14-year-old boy, codenamed APQ, because her guru ordered her to.
    She described it as “the most shameful thing in my life”.

    “It’s one of the things I really resent Akhandananda for,” Shishy said. She denied that she had started a relationship with the boy for comfort because the swami was physically abusing her.

    However, the commission heard Shishy continued a sexual relationship with the boy after she left the ashram in 1985. The pair later had a child together and the boy lived in her house. She said she realised she was in love with him.

    continued below

  28. Shishy also admitted she was present when Akhandananda had sex with two underaged girls at the yoga centre, but said she didn’t fully appreciate his actions were wrong at the time.

    She said she couldn’t recall an event one witness told of, where she allegedly lined children up from youngest to oldest and slapped them. She also said she couldn’t recall other alleged abuses.

    However, she accepted she slapped children “very hard” and her physical discipline became more extreme as the children grew into teenagers.

    “There were more slaps, more hits,” Shishy said.

    At one stage Shishy had guardianship of about seven children but said the papers were only signed to make sure child endowment payments came to the ashram.

    She also alleged the ashram created a directorship to fulfil requirements to become a charitable entity — “there were no meetings or anything like that”.

    The yoga devotee, who produces chanting CDs, said she had no power at the ashram, despite accepting she was the second-in-charge.

    She broke down as she said she accepted she had caused significant trauma to children who worshipped her.

    “I deeply, deeply regret and feel quite desperately sorry for anything that I did or that I didn’t do,” she said. She has apologised for not being aware at the time that the swami’s behaviour was wrong, “I am not the monster as portrayed”.

    After nine years, Shishy left the ashram in 1985 and gave evidence against Akhandananda, who was jailed in 1989 for indecent dealing with four girls.

    The conviction was overturned by the High Court in 1991 and Akhandananda was released. He died from the effects of alcohol abuse in 1998.

    After going public with abuse allegations, Shishy says she was vilified by ashram residents and received death threats. “For many years I used to sleep with a stout stick beside me,” she said. “I was constantly afraid of repercussions.

    “Even then, after everything, I still felt I was betraying the gurus, but also knew that the girls were more important.” In her statement, tendered on Friday she said she went to India to report the abuse to then ashram global leader Swami Satyananda. She claimed she overheard Satyananda and current leader Swami
    Niranjan Saraswati discuss getting rid of her.


    Last week a woman told the commission about her initiation in a hut across the river from the ashram when she was seven years old. She was stripped naked and held down while a swami cut the skin between her breast, licked the blood and raped her.

    “The ashram was the kind of place that if you scream, no one comes,” she said. The woman, known by the pseudonym APR, told the inquiry that five or six male swamis were present during her initiation in the 1970s in which the head of the ashram, Akhandananda, raped her.

    APR and another woman have also told the inquiry they were abused by the founder of the Satyananda Yoga movement Guru Satyananda Saraswati, who is also deceased.

    Satyananda, who died in 2009, was revered around the world and preached celibacy as a way of life for Yoga swamis in his ashrams.

    “I have impressions of him being on top of me,” APR told the commission. “It makes me nauseous, but for years I have swatted away the thought that he raped me as my entire childhood I was raised to believe he was like a god.”

    She told the commission that she moved into the ashram with her mother and sister in the 1970s.

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  29. When Satyananda visited Australia she felt he chose her as his favourite and at times, he would say she was the only child allowed to touch him or sit with him on his special seat.

    APR is the second witness to recount sexual abuse by Satyananda, whose yoga movement had millions of followers and thousands of ashrams across the world.

    He was looked on as an enlightened godlike figure on his annual visits to Australia in the 1970s and 80s and preached abstinence from sex as a path to enlightenment. He died in 2009 at the age of 85.

    On Thursday, Bhakti Manning who lived at his ashram in India told the hearing she was just 17 when he had “violent, aggressive sex” with her. Other women were in the room when this happened and she understood he had sex with them too.

    Ms Manning, now 55, also told the inquiry she was 15 when she was sexually abused in Australia on three separate occasions by two senior swamis.

    One abuser was Swami Akhandananda. Another swami, who is still alive, also abused her at a yoga camp in March and April 1975.

    Ms Manning didn’t reveal herself as a victim of abuse until earlier this year, but had written a letter to members of the Satyananda Yoga Teachers Association saying the issue must be addressed. The ashram sent her “a cease and desist letter”.

    She has only spoken out this year because in ashram society, if she spoke out, she would be considered the criminal “for being a bad disciple for not accepting that what the guru had chosen to do to me for my own good”.

    Asked about contraception in ashrams, especially in India, she said: “It’s quite an interesting thing. I personally think that Satyananda must have been firing blanks”.

    In many cases in India, girls were sent to Calcutta for abortions.

    Other abuse victims have told the commission they were sent for pregnancy tests by Akhandananda.

    Tim Clark, who was a child at the ashram in the 80s, said he was also violently beaten.

    Another woman using the pseudonym APK said she fended off Akhandananda’s advances by telling him she was involved with a boy and she saw the boy subjected to severe physical, emotional and psychological torture by the swami as a result.

    APK claimed she clearly recalled the violence and witnessed Shishy hitting children so hard their heads slammed into a brick wall. “That is something you never forget,” she said.

    She allegedly witnessed children, including her sister APL, being viciously beaten and humiliated.

    “I still hear the sound of (another victim’s) head hitting that wall.” She claimed Shishy made her strip naked in front of everyone when she was 13 to inspect her.

    PAP smears were now a nightmare for her, and APK said although a recent one showed some irregularity she would prefer to get cervical cancer than undergo invasive medical treatment.

    She said an email sent earlier this year by the Mangrove Yoga Ashram heaped insult upon deep injury. The ashram held a healing ceremony and sent victims an email through Facebook saying how successful it had been. She told the ashram it was particularly insulting to spout the rubbish about “ego and embracing the darkness”, because it was what Swami Akhandananda said when he was “f***ing little girls and stealing people’s lives”.

    APK said she did not think the mentality had changed or would change until there was an end to guru worship.

    continued below


    Henry Sztulman, a GP who lived at the ashram for 10 years, also denied allegations by witnesses that he prescribed morphine regularly for minor ailments like an infected toe.

    “Absolutely not,” Dr Sztulman said.

    Dr Sztulman denied administering morphine at the ashram except on two occasions when people were in excruciating pain — once to a swami who had been poisoned by a stone fish.

    Dr Sztulman said he slowly came to accept there had been abuse at the ashram although he never saw any “overt behaviour” indicating abuse of the children.

    He denied witnessing public beatings of adults and children. “I didn’t actually see it, but one of the guys ... said something happened and Swami Akhandananda slapped his face,” he said.

    In 2002 The Medical Tribunal of NSW prohibited Dr Sztulman from prescribing addictive pain killers.

    Dr Sztulman said the drug the medical tribunal reprimand him over was codeine phosphate drugs and never “morphine by injection”. The tribunal report, based on complaints made in 1997, noted that “Dr Sztulman presents as a rather unworldly, naive practitioner”.

    It said “his insulation from general practice while at the ashram contributed to his limited understanding of the issues of manipulative drug addicted patients”.

    The report also said Dr Sztulman was counselled over inappropriate prescription of narcotic drugs in 1995. He supported Akhandananda when he was tried in 1989 for sex offences against four girls.


    Muktimurti, a longtime resident of the Mangrove Yoga Ashram, said on Tuesday she did not know if physical and sexual abuse as alleged by former child residents had taken place.

    Muktimurti said she did not really believe the allegations against Swami Akhandananda when he was brought to trial. She said in her statement to the commission she found it “morally questionable” for victims to now seek financial compensation.

    “I don’t agree with the ashram being held to ransom for something that none of us in the ashram community have anything to do with,” she said.
    Muktimurti said she believed compensation would imply the ashram had done something wrong. She lived at the ashram from 1978 to 1996 and is back there in an administrative position.

    Muktimurti was Shishy’s assistant and denies she ever brought girls to Akhandananda’s bedroom for sex on Shishy’s instructions. “All I know is that my experience, my own experience of living in the ashram has had nothing to do with anything like that,” she said.

    Tearfully, she said she found the hearing distressing because if the acts were true, it was dreadful and if they weren’t, those making the allegations were being “venal”.

    She was unhappy at Mangrove and wanted to return to India after having her own problems with Akhandananda, who propositioned her. She said the ashram could not be blamed. “It must be remembered that they (Akhandananda and Shishy) were responsible for their mistake,” she said.

    The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse inquiry continues in Sydney. It began probing the Mangrove Mountain ashram last week, after earlier hearings into abuse within the Catholic Church, Salvation Army and other organisations.


  31. The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side

    Nearly 50 years ago, a penniless monk arrived in Manhattan, where he began to build an unrivaled community of followers—and a reputation for sexual abuse.
    The ongoing accusations against him expose a dark corner of the Buddhist tradition.

    by Mark Oppenheimer, The Atlantic DECEMBER 18, 2014


    I. “That was the beginning of the sangha”

    II. “Secretly in a relationship”

    III. “The Buddha probably had many lovers”

    IV. “I felt he would deny everything”

    V. “They came in search of Zen and found sex”

    VI. “Don’t speak in parables’

    VII. “I can’t say that it was consensual”

    VIII. “You start being a little curious”

    IX. “I took a vow of celibacy”

    X. “Unfortunately, we don’t have God”

    XI. “You may not see your own shadows”

    read the article at:


  32. Guru sex scandal at Mount Eliza yoga retreat

    Brisbane Times January 20, 2015

    A sex scandal has shattered the zen-like calm of an ashram in Mount Eliza, with revelations its "guru" and director, Swami Shankarananda, allegedly had sexual relations with dozens of women attending the ashram.

    Distressed former members of the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga claim Swami Shankarananda, 72, had sexual relationships with up to 40 women, and say a number have since sought counselling.

    At a prayer meeting in December, a board member of the residential ashram - which has about 500 members and up to 40 "seekers", or residents - announced the ashram was aware of sexual allegations against American-born Swami Shankarananda, also known as Russell Kruckman, and he would be standing down as director.

    The ashram then released a statement to members saying it was aware the swami had had "secret sexual relations" with a number of women over time but he had never claimed to be a sexual renunciant or demanded celibacy from his disciples.

    "It is well known that our lineage is a tantric path, involving worship of the Goddess with strict disciplines," the letter says. "...until now Swamiji has kept aspects of the teaching and his personal activities secret in line with age-old Hindi tantric scriptures."

    "Swamiji now accepts that this is not appropriate, and he must be transparent both personally and in the teachings."

    The letter goes on to say that while the board has been advised there is no basis for criminal complaint, the activities in question raise a number ethical questions, and free counselling is available.

    "Swamiji has asked us on his behalf to reiterate his message for the year of holding the feeling - that is, stay away from enmity, and keep returning to love."

    In an accompanying letter, the swami directly addresses the members of ashram, apologising and saying he had a "carrot in his ear", an apparent reference to a book he wrote in 2004 calledCarrot in My Ear: Questions and Answers on Living with Awareness.

    "My dear ones, I feel a lot of anguish ... l had a carrot in my ear. Truly. When contemplating Baba's life, I was most engaged by the dramas of succession. I profoundly underestimated the impact of his tantric sexual activities. And my own. I recognise at last their disastrous effect."

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  33. Swami Shankarananda vowed to stop his behaviour and make amends in an atmosphere of "love and generosity of spirit".

    "I am open to a dialogue about the role of the guru and the sannyasa in the modern West and also the place of sexuality in spiritual life ... we are pioneers, after all, and getting it all right isn't easy."

    A longtime member of the ashram - who did not have sexual relations with its director - said members felt "absolutely shocked" and "aghast" that the swami remained in his role.

    The source described it as an abuse of power from someone who held "huge sway" over a number "impressionable" people.

    "He's very charismatic, he's like a big teddy bear. Everyone loved this guy but he's just a master at this," they said. They claimed that women were told that sex with the swami represented a path to "enlightenment".

    Some residents at the ashram are now scrambling to try to find alternative accommodation and many long-term members had left, they said.

    Fairfax Media was told the management committee of the ashram is deeply involved in the everyday life of its members, including giving advice on their relationships and marital problems.

    In a statement the Shiva School said Swami Shankarananda is not on the school's management committee but remains the spiritual head of the Shiva ashram.

    The ashram has engaged mediator Callum Campbell, the chief executive officer of the Australian Mediation Association, who will undertake a confidential mediation process and then report back to the ashram with recommendations for any action.

    There is no current Victoria Police investigation and Fairfax is not implying that there is any evidence of sexual abuse.

    Swami Shankarananda established the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga in 1992.


  34. Schism Emerges in Bikram Yoga Empire Amid Rape Claims

    By JACK HEALY, New York Times February 23, 2015

    LOS ANGELES — He is the yoga guru who built an empire on sweat and swagger. He has a stable of luxury cars and a Beverly Hills mansion. During trainings for hopeful yoga teachers, he paces a stage in a black Speedo and holds forth on life, sex and the transformative power of his brand of hot yoga. “I totally cure you,” he has told interviewers. “Whatever the problem you have.”

    But a day of legal reckoning is drawing closer for the guru, Bikram Choudhury. He is facing six civil lawsuits from women accusing him of rape or assault. The most recent was filed on Feb. 13 by a Canadian yogi, Jill Lawler, who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during a teacher-training in the spring of 2010.

    This month, a Los Angeles judge cleared away several challenges to a lawsuit from a former student who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during another 2010 teacher-training.

    The first complaint was filed two years ago. As more surfaced, and more women spoke publicly about accusations of assault and harassment, their accounts have created fissures in the close-knit world of yoga students and teachers who have spent thousands of dollars to study with Mr. Choudhury; opened studios bearing his name; and found strength, flexibility and health in his formula of 26 yoga postures in a sweltering room.

    Many have stayed loyal to a man they call Boss and revere as an eccentric guru. Others are walking away.

    “A lot of people have blinders on,” said Sarah Baughn, 29, a onetime Bikram yoga devotee and international yoga competitor whose lawsuit against Mr. Choudhury in 2013 was like an earthquake among followers of his style of yoga. “This is their entire world. They don’t want to accept that this has happened.”

    Mr. Choudhury, who remains the face of his yoga empire, his grinning photo placed prominently on the home page of Bikram’s Yoga College of India, denies any wrongdoing and faces no criminal charges.

    A statement issued by lawyers for Mr. Choudhury and his yoga college, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuits, said that “Mr. Choudhury did not sexually assault any of the plaintiffs” and that the women were “unjustly” exploiting the legal system for financial gain.

    “Their claims are false and dishonor Bikram yoga and the health and spiritual benefits it has brought to the lives of millions of practitioners throughout the world,” the statement said. “After a thorough investigation, the Los Angeles County district attorney declined to file any sexual assault charges against Mr. Choudhury or the college for lack of evidence.”

    An August trial date has been set in Ms. Baughn’s case. In her complaint, she said Mr. Choudhury pursued her starting with a teacher-training she attended in 2005, when she was 20. She said he had whispered sexual advances during classes, and had assaulted and groped her in a hotel room and at his home.

    In the other case involving a 2010 teacher-training, Mr. Choudhury’s lawyers argued that the woman had waited too long to file the lawsuit, beyond the statute of limitations. But the judge denied parts of the lawyers’ argument, saying the woman, known in court papers as Jane Doe No. 2, had endured so much damage to her life and psyche that most of the suit could move ahead.

    “The cases are moving very quickly,” said Mary Shea Hagebols, a lawyer for the six women suing Mr. Choudhury. “Any stays have been lifted, and we’re moving full steam ahead.”

    Even as the lawsuits against Mr. Choudhury multiplied over the past two years, new Bikram-branded studios continued to open, joining a list of hundreds of independently operated studios in places like Buenos Aires and Shanghai. Mr. Choudhury is listed as the director of his Los Angeles headquarters, and he personally oversees the grueling, weekslong teacher-trainings that cost $12,500 per pupil.

    continued below

  35. “There have been thousands of Bikram yoga teachers, studio owners and practitioners who have conveyed messages of support and encouragement,” the statement from his lawyers said.

    But several owners have decided to jettison the name Bikram from their yoga, saying they now felt uncomfortable with the association. On the Southern California coast, Tiffany Friedman renamed her Bikram studio Haute Yogi Manhattan Beach and began offering her own mixture of yoga styles.

    Ms. Friedman had been doing Bikram-style yoga for years, and she said that after buying a studio in 2008, she decided to attend a teacher-training in San Diego. She hoped to learn more about yoga philosophy, anatomy and the underpinnings of a physical practice she had come to love. She found none of that, she said.

    “I was pretty much appalled,” she said. “It was very cultish.”

    The daylong trainings, she said, consisted of marathon yoga practice in a roasting room, rote memorization of a yoga script to which teachers had to adhere, what she described as rambling lectures led by Mr. Choudhury and mandatory viewings of Bollywood movies until 3 a.m. She said other teacher trainees frequently massaged Mr. Choudhury as he sat in an oversize chair on stage before rows of pupils.

    “I saw how people really wanted his favor and wanted him to shine a light on them and wanted to believe he was a guru and had all these powers,” Ms. Friedman said. “It was heartbreaking.”

    Ms. Friedman said she had clashed with Mr. Choudhury when she had begun offering an abbreviated version of his 90-minute class, and decided to part ways with the Bikram brand after reading details from the lawsuits.

    “I stopped sending people to training,” she said. “I changed the name.”

    But other studio owners have drawn borders between the man and his yoga, saying his methods work. And they have continued to use his name in their business.

    In moment-by-moment detail, the civil suits against Mr. Choudhury accused him of harassing, targeting and assaulting young women who had once revered him.

    The most recent complaint, filed by Ms. Lawler, described how she felt that “Bikram Yoga was her calling, and that her purpose was to share it with as many people as possible.” At 18, she signed up for a spring 2010 teacher-training in Las Vegas.

    Lawyers for Mr. Choudhury said they had not yet been formally served with the lawsuit.

    According to the complaint, Mr. Choudhury praised Ms. Lawler’s recitation of the teaching script that accompanied the yoga postures. She massaged him for hours during Bollywood viewings, the complaint said, and at one point, he began groping her.

    Ms. Lawler was afraid to speak up, the court papers said, and having spent $10,000 from her college fund on the training, she felt she had to complete the course. Mr. Choudhury pulled her aside one night, apologized for touching her and promised to “make her a champion,” the complaint said.

    Weeks later, Mr. Choudhury told Ms. Lawler to accompany him to his hotel room, where he sexually assaulted her, the complaint said.

    According to the lawsuit, Ms. Lawler stayed part of the Bikram world for years after that; the complaint accused Mr. Choudhury of sexually assaulting her on multiple subsequent occasions, most recently in February 2013.

    In July 2014, she taught her last Bikram yoga class, the lawsuit said, and took a job as a waitress.

    Ms. Baughn, who once loved teaching yoga and earned accolades for her strength and flexibility on the yoga mat, has also left the yoga world. She no longer teaches or practices, and she said she could never go back.

    “I went through total hell,” she said, adding: “What happened to me was awful. I’ll probably always have bad dreams.”


  36. Bikram Choudhury yoga guru sued by instructor for alleged sexual assault

    Woman is 6th to file lawsuit against 69-year-old for sexual assault or harassment

    CBC News February 25, 2015

    A Vancouver woman has filed a lawsuit against yoga millionaire Bikram Choudhury, alleging the 69-year-old yoga guru sexually assaulted her during an instructor training course in Las Vegas in 2010.

    Jill Lawler alleges she was "repeatedly sexually assaulted, raped and harassed" by Choudhury, and that he "preyed on … her youth and vulnerability … which caused her significant and enduring physical, emotional and psychological harm."

    The civil lawsuit filed in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles earlier this month says Lawler was 18 years old when she began training with, and then working for, Choudhury's yoga business.

    Lawler says she paid $10,000 in 2010 to attend a nine-week intensive yoga instructor training course after personally writing to Choudhury to be allowed to take part, despite not meeting the course's normal minimum age requirement of 21.

    The lawsuit alleges the exhaustive training program and low protein diet pushed "students to the point were they become compliant and unquestioning with regard to their guru's requests."

    Evening assaults alleged

    During an evening meeting, Lawler's lawsuit alleges, she began massaging Choudhury's feet and he put his hand on her thigh, then attempted to put his hand inside her pants. She jumped up and left the room in shock, according to the lawsuit.

    The lawsuit alleges the unwanted sexual advances continued during the course, stating "one night about a week later Choudhury insisted that Jill accompany him to his hotel room … where in addition to raping her … Choudury demanded she say disgusting and untrue things, including: 'Bikram you're the best' and 'I want to f--k you all night long.'"

    The lawsuit alleges Choudhury assaulted Lawler again during his training session, and on 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.

    In the lawsuit, she says she felt there was nothing she could do about the alleged assaults, because she thought Choudhury would retaliate by preventing her from working at his Vancouver studios and make it impossible for her to earn a living.

    "Jill was terrified of … Choudhury because he had a number of close followers in Vancouver, would brag that he knew 'all of the police' and many other powerful people, he warned students, including Jill, not to 'f--k with him,' and frequently stated that 'people who don't listen to me, they die,'" says the lawsuit.

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  37. Lawler alleges that once she learned another woman had filed a lawsuit against Choudhury, he became concerned and began to offer "veiled bribes to buy her silence," which she refused.

    The lawsuit says that in July 2014, Lawler taught her last Bikram class, but she still suffers from crippling psychological harm. She is suing for unspecified compensation.

    No police investigation

    The allegations have not been proven in court, and Choudhury has not filed a response to the lawsuit.

    The Bikram Yoga Vancouver Team said this is a "terrible tragedy for the individuals involved."

    "If these allegations are upheld, we certainly condemn this type of behaviour," it said in an emailed statement. "All of that said, once there is a verdict in this case, we'll see where that takes us."

    CBC News has not yet received a response to a request for comment from Choudhury. But according to an article published yesterday in the New York Times, Choudhury's lawyers said they had not yet been formally served with the lawsuit.

    Lawler's lawyer Mary Shea Hagebols is also representing five other women who filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2014 against Choudhury for alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault.

    According to a statement posted on the Bikram Yoga website dated April 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has looked into the prior allegations and decided against pursuing criminal investigations of Choudhury at that time.

    The New York Times article also said Choudhury's lawyers issued a statement saying Choudhury "did not sexually assault any of the plaintiffs” and that the women were “unjustly” exploiting the legal system for financial gain.

    Choudhury is known for developing and copyrighting a sequence of 26 yoga postures which are normally performed in a room heated to 40 C. His chain of 650 yoga studios around the world have made the Beverley Hills resident a multimillionaire.


  38. Hot yoga founder Bikram Choudhury faces more rape claims

    Six women accuse exercise mogul of various forms of sexual assault from harassment to groping and rape

    Associated Press, February 27, 2015

    A yoga guru who founded a rigorous routine of exercises practiced in steamy rooms around the world is facing lawsuits by six women who claim he sexually assaulted them.

    The most recent case, filed on 13 February in Los Angeles superior court, claims Bikram Choudhury raped a Canadian woman who had paid $10,000 from her college fund for a nine-week class so she could teach the 26-pose technique to others.

    Jill Lawler said she went into the class elated to learn from the master, but things quickly soured as she was expected to massage him while watching Bollywood movies late into the night with hundreds of other students and was sexually assaulted on several occasions.

    “Throughout the sexual abuse, defendant Bikram Choudhury offered multiple explanations and justifications for his behaviour,” the lawsuit said. “He would say ‘I’m dying, I need to you to save me. If I don’t have sex I will die. You are saving my life, you are helping me.’”

    Choudhury did not return an email seeking comment, but lawyers representing him and Bikram’s Yoga College of India said he never sexually assaulted any of the women and that prosecutors declined to bring charges.

    “Their claims are false, needlessly bring shame upon the yoga community, and dishonor the health and spiritual benefits that Bikram Yoga has brought to the lives of millions of practitioners throughout the world,” the statement said.

    The Los Angeles district attorney declined to bring charges in a case against Choudhury in 2013 for lack of evidence, spokesman Ricardo Santiago said.

    Choudhury, 69, has throngs of devotees of what he’s called McYoga for its consistency: 90-minute classes taught exactly the same way in rooms heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40C).

    He leads teaching seminars in nothing but a black Speedo while his followers sweat in skimpy, tight clothing. Courses are rigorous, the hours are long and sleep deprivation is almost guaranteed. Choudhury can be charismatic and cutting.

    While people credited hot yoga with changing their lives and many remain loyal to Choudhury, there had been a noticeable change since the first sexual assault allegations were levelled in 2013, said Benjamin Lorr, who wrote Hell-Bent, a book on extreme yoga that prominently features Choudhury.

    Women told Lorr during his research about encounters with Choudhury like those recounted in the current lawsuits. But no woman would go on the record until Sarah Baughn, a yoga champion, sued Choudhury for sexual assault.

    Baughn, 29, said there was such a cult-like atmosphere among the Bikram community that she had endured Choudhury’s sexual assaults as just something that went with the territory. Others told her to separate the man from the teacher.

    She was able to do that for a long time, connected financially, emotionally and spiritually to a practice that had helped her overcome scoliosis and depression. And she was afraid to leave because Choudhury boasted of how he had ruined people and got them banished from the yoga world.

    Baughn’s lawsuit is scheduled for trial in August. She no longer practises yoga.


  39. Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury in court for first of several sexual misconduct lawsuits

    by Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times January 19, 2016

    Over the course of more than 40 years, Bikram Choudhury has gained millions of followers, built a global yoga empire headquartered in Los Angeles and amassed a fortune from the yoga postures done in a sweltering room.

    He has championed his methods as a way to help followers heal ailments, promote their health and lead to a better, more peaceful life.

    But several women say there is a darker side to the guru, alleging in lawsuits that he sexually assaulted or harassed them.

    Choudhury, 69, was in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom over recent weeks defending himself in the first of a series of lawsuits expected to go to trial. The lawsuit was brought by his former general counsel, who alleges she was sexually harassed by Choudhury and fired after investigating claims from a student that Choudhury had raped her.

    For the first time in court, Choudhury strongly denied sexually assaulting the women.

    "I don't do that," he testified. "I don't have to."

    With his flowing black hair lying on a jet-black suit, Choudhury alternately described accusations of mistreatment and abuse of employees as "lies" and "big lies," drawing laughs from the jury. Choudhury says the attorney, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, was let go because she did not have a license to practice law in the United States.

    In 2013, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Choudhury after evaluating allegations from four women who accused him of sexual misconduct.

    Three of the women accused him of sexual assault, and another alleged that he attempted to touch her genitals without consent, according to a district attorney's memo obtained by The Times. All four accusers lacked corroborating witnesses and physical evidence,the memo said.

    Choudhury was born in Calcutta and began studying yoga as a toddler, winning his first national yoga championship in India by the age of 13, according to a biography posted on his business website.

    In 1971, he moved to Beverly Hills and quickly became a prominent figure as yoga rose in popularity in the United States. He styled himself as a yogi to the stars, bragging that Raquel Welch and Quincy Jones were among his clients and that he healed Richard Nixon of phlebitis.

    continued below

  40. Bikram yoga consists of a series of 26 poses, done over 90 minutes in a room heated to 104 degrees. Millions have practiced it worldwide, said Benjamin Lorr, author of "Hellbent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga."

    Much of Choudhury's business comes from training courses that are required for followers who want to teach at a Bikram-affiliated studio, Lorr said. The sessions cost $12,500 to $16,600 for a grueling, nine-week course.

    During testimony this week, Choudhury admitted to referring to his penis during training. He also said he lied previously under oath on the advice of attorneys, including Jafa-Bodden, when he denied making profane comments during the sessions. Jafa-Bodden denies telling him to lie.

    "I teach my teacher yoga class exactly how I want," he said.

    It was during these teacher training courses that some of the assaults are alleged to have occurred.

    In interviews with The Times, three of the women who have filed lawsuits— Larissa Anderson, Sarah Baughn and Dana McClellan — say Choudhury nurtured a cult-like devotion among followers that allowed him to take advantage of female students. That devotion — and a fear of being exiled from the yoga community — kept victims and others from speaking up, the women said.

    At teacher trainings, some students were invited to Choudhury's suite at night for mandatory viewings of Bollywood movies that stretched into the early morning hours, said Baughn, who filed the first lawsuit against Choudhury in 2013. There,some women massaged Choudhury and brushed his hair, she said.

    Baughn once viewed Choudhury as a genius who changed her life by helping her cope with crippling back pain and depression. She dropped out of college and took out loans to attend his teacher training, hoping to open her own studio and introduce others to the benefits she was experiencing.

    She was uncomfortable, however, when Choudhury took special notice of her in class, offering her his Rolex watch from his wrist, her lawsuit said. When she demurred, he told her that he knew her from a past life and later asked her to enter into a relationship with him, according to her complaint.

    After reporting what happened to Choudhury's staff, she was told to "separate the man from the teacher," the lawsuit said.

    Choudhury continued his advances despite her refusals, she contends in court papers. He would press his body against hers during class, the lawsuit said, whispering sexual comments into her ear. In Choudhury's Acapulco hotel room during another teacher training, he sexually assaulted her, the lawsuit alleges.

    "You feel like you owe something to him, and he can really zero in on that and he knows which girls will be excited by him, or vulnerable," she said in an interview.

    After Baughn filed suit, other women followed.

    In Bikram yoga, Anderson found salvation.

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  41. She had spent years masking her depression from past sexual abuse with drugs and alcohol. But with the yoga, she was able to reclaim her body, find hope and achieve happiness.

    "It was euphoric," she said. "No matter how I felt walking in, I felt better walking out."

    And in Choudhury, she felt, she had found her guru — and her savior.

    Anderson said she had decided at one point to dedicate her life to Bikram yoga and open her own studio in her native Washington state.

    She completed teacher training and became close with the Choudhury family, often visiting their home, according to a lawsuit she filed against him.

    One night at his home, Choudhury asked her to massage him while they watched a Bollywood movie, her complaint alleges. She eventually grew tired and asked to leave, but he forced her to stay, held her down and raped her, according to the lawsuit.

    Afterward, she continued to practice yoga, hoping that she'd be able to avoid Choudhury, the lawsuit said.

    She briefly worked at the Los Angeles headquarters, according to the complaint, and Choudhury promised to help with the studio she opened in Seattle, for which she took out loans. But after she rebuffed another of his advances, Choudhury refused to promote her studio, the lawsuit alleges.

    For McClellan, according to her lawsuit, the attention Choudhury showed her during teacher training in 2010 at first seemed innocuous.

    He corrected her poses and complimented her in front of the entire class in San Diego, the lawsuit alleges.

    But then Choudhury began commenting on her body and making sexual comments during class, the complaint said. He told her he was in love with her and asked repeatedly for her to move to Los Angeles to work at his headquarters, she alleged in the suit. McClellan was uncomfortable but felt she was too far into the training to turn back, the complaint said.

    One night, Choudhury asked her to his hotel room to discuss the job offer, the complaint said. After she refused his advances there, he raped her, the lawsuit alleges.

    During a deposition last July, Choudhury repeatedly said he did not recognize McClellan, who attended the deposition, according to a transcript reviewed by The Times. When asked if he raped McClellan, according to the transcript, he declined to answer, invoking his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination on the advice of his attorney.

    McClellan said she fell into a severe depression. She tried to resume practicing yoga, but hearing the script written by Choudhury brought back painful memories,she said in an interview.

    "I couldn't do the yoga anymore," she said.

    When she sued Choudhury, she decided against using her name, instead using the pseudonym Jane Doe #2. Later, she decided to make her accusations public.

    "Over time, I've realized that he is a coward and that he doesn't have power over me anymore," she said. "I'm not afraid of him."

    All three of their cases are pending.


  42. Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury must pay $900,000 to former employee, jury decides

    by Stephen Ceasar Contact Reporter, Los Angeles Times January 25, 2016

    A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, to pay about $924,500 to a lawyer who alleged that he sexually harassed her while she worked for him and that she was fired after she began investigating claims that he raped a yoga student.

    Attorney Minakshi Jafa-Bodden said in her lawsuit that she suffered gender discrimination, wrongful termination and sexual harassment during her time working for Choudhury.

    During testimony, Choudhury, 69, alternately described accusations of mistreatment and abuse of Jafa-Bodden and other employees as “lies” and “big lies,” drawing laughs from the jury. Choudhury and his attorneys said Jafa-Bodden was let go because she did not have a license to practice law in the United States.

    Jurors deliberated for about a day before returning with a unanimous verdict in favor of Jafa-Bodden, said Mark Quigley, who along with attorney Carla Minnard represented Jafa-Bodden.

    “Jafa-Bodden faced retaliation and intimidation when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behavior,” Quigley said in a statement released after the jury's decision Monday afternoon. “This verdict sends an important message, that speaking out when you see signs of sexual abuse is the right thing to do.”

    The jury also found that Choudhury acted with malice, oppression and fraud — findings that allow Jafa-Bodden to seek punitive damages. The hearing for punitive damages will begin Tuesday, Quigley said.

    Choudhury's lawyer, Robert Tafoya, declined to comment.

    Jafa-Bodden’s lawsuit is one of several filed against the eccentric guru, who built a yoga empire and amassed a fortune after moving to California in 1971. Choudhury gained millions of followers through his style of yoga, which consists of a series of 26 poses, done over 90 minutes in a room heated to 104 degrees.

    See the most-read stories this hour >>
    Six other women in recent years have sued Choudhury, alleging that he sexually assaulted or harassed them. One of the women filed court paperwork this month indicating that she and Choudhury had reached a conditional settlement; the filing did not disclose the agreement’s details.

    During the trial over Jafa-Bodden’s allegations, Choudhury strongly denied sexually assaulting the women.

    “I don't do that,” he testified. “I don't have to.”

    Jafa-Bodden alleged that Choudhury persuaded her to leave her native India to work for him as his general counsel in 2011.

    During her employment, she alleged, Choudhury repeatedly sexually harassed her and subjected her to obscene comments about women and minority groups. She also accused Choudhury of pressuring her to cover up his sexual harassment of women.

    Choudhury admitted while testifying that he referred to his penis during teacher training sessions, which involve a nine-week course required for followers who want to teach at a Bikram-affiliated studio.

    Choudhury also said he lied previously under oath on the advice of attorneys, including Jafa-Bodden, when he denied making obscene comments during the sessions. Jafa-Bodden denies telling him to lie.

    The lawyer alleged that she was fired in 2013 after she attempted to investigate several allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Choudhury, including a rape claim made by one of his female students.

    In 2013, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Choudhury after evaluating allegations from four women who accused him of sexual misconduct.

    Three of the women accused him of sexual assault, and another alleged that he attempted to touch her genitals without consent, according to a district attorney's memo obtained by The Times. All four accusers lacked corroborating witnesses and physical evidence, the memo said.


  43. Lets Stop Calling Rape and Harassment by Bikram Yoga Founder Just Another Guru Scandal

    By Andrea R. Jain, Religion Dispatches February 1, 2016

    Andrea R. Jain is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture (Oxford, 2014).

    When Bikram Choudhury was first teaching yoga in the 1970s at his yoga studio in the basement of a Beverly Hills bank building, he very much represented the ascetic ideal of the yoga guru, sleeping on the studio floor and offering donation-only classes.
    According to Choudhury, Shirley MacLaine approached him and advised, “In America, if you don’t charge money . . . people won’t respect you.” Choudhury apparently took that advice to heart and, today he is the founder of the yoga empire Bikram Yoga, and a multimillionaire. He now represents the corruption and greed of corporate America.

    This week Choudhury was ordered to pay $6.5 million in punitive damages on top of $924,000 in compensatory damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit in which Minakshi Jafa-Boddena, the former head of legal and international affairs at Choudhury’s yoga school in Los Angeles, said Choudhury sexually harassed her and wrongfully fired her for investigating another woman’s rape allegation.
    Six other women, five of whom accuse Choudhury of raping them, have filed sexual assault lawsuits against Choudhury. One of those is in the process of being settled, and the remaining five are set for trial later this year.

    Some news outlets have reported on the recent order with headlines labeling Choudhury the “guru” of Bikram Yoga. This instantaneously situates him within the broader context of guru sex scandals that have erupted since the 1960s and the larger narrative that envisions religion as inevitably despotic and abusive. It is true that, even as gurus idealized celibacy and ethical integrity, many scandals revealed sexual corruption and secrecy as central to their lifestyles. A number of yoga gurus have been outed as sexually active, usually with young, white, female students. These scandals have left the American public thinking the “guru model” is problematic for its inherently undemocratic tendencies, suspecting the model is an extreme form of authoritarianism that inevitably leads to demise.

    In 1993, for example, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad warned against the dangers of the guru-disciple relationship, suggesting it displays “the seductions, predictable patterns, and corruptions contained in any essentially authoritarian form” and “the epitome of surrender to a living person, and thus clearly exhibits what it means to trust another more than oneself.”

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  44. Though yoga gurus certainly can slip into authoritarianism, the assumption that corruption is somehow inherent in that model betrays an orientalist stereotype of South Asians, their religions, and other cultural products as despotic in contrast to white, so-called democratic religions or cultures.

    I suggest we avoid orientalist traps by too simplistically subsuming this case into “guru scandals,” as if this is simply a result of an essentialized “guru model” or, more generally, of religious authoritarianism. Though I have no doubt that, for some of Bikram’s students and employees, there is a religious devotion to the practice and the man, this type of corruption is found in all forms of authoritarianism, including corporate forms. Corporate control of the United States is at an all-time high, and the super wealthy, more than religious authorities, have little reason to fear the average American. CEOs, after all, regularly get away with making over three hundred times the average wages of workers.

    Bikram himself has acknowledged his superpower, stating, “I’m beyond Superman. . . Because I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me.”

    Yet Bikram bemoans, following the over $7 million order, that he is now nearly bankrupt. Well, as we have learned from Donald Trump, bankruptcy is not sufficient to destroy the super wealthy in the United States and, considering that American police arrest someone for marijuana charges every 42 seconds, many of whom, especially black youth, end up serving prison time, this cost to an entrepreneur of Choudhury’s magnitude strikes me as a mere slap on the wrist for charges of serious, harmful behavior.