The 6 Biggest Yoga Scandals, From Bikram Choundry To Lululemon
After being accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment, Bikram Choundury, founder of Bikram yoga, sat down with CNN this week to discuss the allegations — which, of course, he claims he's innocent of. As of February, Choundury, whose been making men and women sweat their cares and calories away for 50-some years, has had six civil lawsuits filed against him alleging sexual harassment. Most of Choundury’s accusers are women who were studying with him to become Bikram instructors, however, his own attorney, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, filed a suit in early 2013, alleging him of sexual harassment as well.
But Bikram Choundury isn’t the first high-profile yoga instructor to find himself embroiled in scandal. In fact, sexual misconduct by yoga instructors has become so common that the Yoga Teachers Association of California has actually had to update their code of conduct statement to acknowledge just how “unethical” this behavior is, by outlining specifically what constitutes sexual harassment and/or assault.
For a practice that is all about the wellness of the mind and body, the yoga community has certainly had their fair share of scandals. In addition to the current Bikram Choundury allegations, here are five other yoga related scandals you can contemplate next time you're in shavasana.
5. Dechen Thurman
Brother of Uma, Jivamukti yoga instructor Dechen Thurman came under fire when it was alleged last year that he was a sex addict who was sleeping with a bunch of his students at his Manhattan yoga studio.
According the New York Post, a close friend of Thurman, Maria Sliwa, has nicknamed him the “yoga gigolo,” because he apparently slept with so many students. After Thurman apparently admitted to Sliwa that “sometimes there’s as many as five or sex women in the class I have slept with,” the Columbia professor and former NYPD cop not only formerly complained to the school, but submitted a 41-page dossier detailing conversations and emails surrounding his behavior.
Thurman’s lawyer has pretty much called Sliwa a liar with questionable motives.
4. John Friend
In 2012, Anusara yoga founder John Friend wasn’t just accused of sexual misconduct, but also of financial mismanagement, forcing his employees to accept drug deliveries, and having started Blazing Solar Flames, which was a Wiccan sex coven. Amid these allegations, Friend was rumored to also be sleeping with more than a few of his female students and employees. His coven was known for wild naked gatherings, with one coven member having said, it “was like something out of Hustler or Penthouse, I just thought, ‘Wow, this guys is living the dream.’”
Eventually, it all came tumbling down, and Friend was pretty much banished from yoga world.
3. Kausthub Desikachar
Kausthub Desikachar was accused of sexual, mental, and emotional abuse in 2002 by women who were training with him at the European Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation in Austria. According the North American branch of the foundation, Desikachar was accused of abusing his position and using personal details from the lives of the women he assaulted as a means to corner them into sexual situations that they did not want.
A few months after the allegations surfaced Desikachar rebranded himself asking, “not to be judged” for his behavior. As of 2013, he was working again, with zero mention of his legal troubles on his new website.
Lululemon Athletica, a sportswear company that has become a favorite among yogis, found itself in some unwanted spotlight after their founder, Chip Wilson, basically fat-shamed its customers.
It was after a product flaw in a line of yoga pants that Wilson did some pretty extensive damage to the brand by saying, “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there.” Nice, Chip.
The backlash that followed included petitions, boycotts of the Lululemon brand, and Wilson being forced to step down. But because Chip Wilson is just a peach all-around, he's also stated that birth control leads to divorce, child labor is fine with him, and that he delights in the fact that the Japanese struggle with the letter "L." So, yeah... good riddance, Chip.
1. Swami Muktananda
Despite claiming to be celibate and teaching that sexual desire needed to be curbed (also that semen somehow provides “vigor” when it stayed inside), Siddha Yoga guru Swami Muktananda wasn’t practicing what he preached. Muktananda reportedly raped women and girls as young as 13 in his ashrams.
Among his many victims was “Jennifer,” who said Muktananda ordered her to go to his bedroom one night where she was raped. When recounting the episode later on, she said she was shocked by what he had done, “but over the years, I had learned you never say no to anything that he asked you to do…”
Muktananda also called gays “disgusting, impure, and inauspicious,” and was accused of beating and intimidating his followers. When he died in 1982, his successors did their best to sweep all these claims under the carpet. He was never charged.