Day 6

Bikram Choudhury, rape allegations, and the fracturing of a yoga empire

A former Vancouver Bikram yoga teacher is now the sixth woman to accuse hot yoga guru Bikram Choudhury of rape or assault. Edmonton's Pernille Tjelum, who trained with Choudhury and owned a Bikram studio, explains how the allegations have divided the yoga community.
Bikram Choudhury, front, founder of Bikram yoga, a type of hot yoga. A sixth woman has filed a lawsuit against the 69-year-old for sexual assault or harassment. (AP)

News emerged this week that a former Vancouver Bikram yoga teacher named Jill Lawler has filed a lawsuit against multi-millionaire yoga-guru Bikram Choudhury, claiming he sexually assaulted her during and after a teacher training course in 2010. Choudhury now faces civil lawsuits from a total of six women claiming rape or assault. Bikram Choudhury built an empire on his copyrighted 26-pose yoga method. There are about 650 Bikram Yoga studios around the world, including dozens in Canada. Pernille Tjelum, a former Bikram yoga teacher and studio owner in Edmonton, describes how these allegations have formed deep divides in the Bikram yoga community 

In response to our request for an interview, we received the following statement from Bikram Choudhury's legal team:


by Attorneys for Bikram Choudhury and for Bikram’s Yoga College of India, LP

Mr. Choudhury and the Yoga College will address the specific allegations made by women accusing Mr. Choudhury of sexual assault in a court of law, rather than in the press or social media. They are prepared to prove in each of the pending cases that Mr. Choudhury did not sexually assault any of these women.

Mr. Choudhury and the Yoga College are disappointed that these women have made lurid accusations apparently to exploit the legal system for financial gain.  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.  Mr. Choudhury holds sacred the trust of his yoga students, and his life’s work has been dedicated to demonstrating he is and always will be worthy of their trust.     

Bikram and the College would like the Yoga Community to know certain truths common to each of the plaintiffs and the claims they have made.  The women did not independently come forward to tell their stories of sexual assault after years of keeping them secret.  Instead, they signed on to become plaintiffs in these cases following a world-wide and lengthy period of solicitation through letters and social media seeking to convince women to sue Mr. Choudhury.  For each accuser willing to lie, thousands of women who know Bikram refused.  The stories told by plaintiffs in their lawsuits are near copies of one another; they are all authored by the same lawyer who recruited them. 

None of the women made reports to law enforcement authorities supporting their accusations of sexual assault by Mr. Choudhury.  The Los Angeles County District Attorney conducted a thorough investigation of the plaintiffs’ claims and declined to file any sexual assault charges against Mr. Choudhury or the College for lack of evidence. 

The lawsuits have not progressed very far through the legal system, and Mr. Choudhury and the College have not yet been served with the lawsuit recently filed by Jill Lawler.  Mr. Choudhury and the College have been successful in getting dismissed at an early stage multiple claims by several of the plaintiffs and awaiting decisions on other claims.  Out of respect for the judicial process, Mr. Choudhury and the College defer further comment on several pending motions until after the judges have rendered their decisions. 

Bikram and the College thank the thousands of Bikram Yoga teachers, studio owners, and practitioners who have conveyed messages of support and encouragement.  To those supporters, Bikram and the College say that their comforting words, most often shared privately and spoken softly, have been heard clearly, felt profoundly and appreciated deeply.