For years, the founder of the Bikram yoga movement, Bikram Choudhury, has been the subject of intense scrutiny and controversy, owing to multiple allegations of rape and sexual assault against him. And now, in a new episode of ESPN's 30 for 30 podcast, some of Bikram Choudhury's accusers came forward with their stories, detailing allegations of rape and intimidation by the yoga guru.
Choudhury has denied the allegations of sexual wrongdoing, which first began bubbling up in the public consciousness in 2013, and in 2016 led to a multi-million dollar civil ruling against him. In November 2017, his Bikram Yoga business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of the multiple lawsuits against him, and many studios which once billed themselves as "Bikram yoga" have rebranded to more generic names, like "hot yoga."
The reason for this, simply put, are the allegations of sexually predatory behavior that have followed Choudhury for years, and judgments against him that have resulted in him fleeing from the United States. Some of these stories are detailed by women in the third season of the 30 for 30 podcast ― hosted by Julia Lowrie Henderson, herself a former Bikram practitioner and the manager of a studio― which is dedicated to Choudhury's history, his behaviors towards women, and the rise of Bikram yoga.
The fourth episode of the season, Truth, features interviews with a number of women who worked in Choudhury's yoga empire, one of whom claims she was raped by him in a hotel suite in Los Vegas.
"Immediately after we got inside, he started trying to force himself on me," Jill Lawler, a former Bikram Yoga teacher, told Henderson. "He pulled his pants down and came over to me and was just basically thrusting it in my face and just being super aggressive. I had my hands up trying to block him. I was like, 'No, no, no.'"
"It was probably like 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning," she continued. "I remember the sun was starting to come up and I was exhausted and afraid and all the things running through my mind about — it comes down to when you feel like you can’t tell if not doing it is gonna be worse for you than doing it, so you decide to do it because that just seems like the easier, safer option. So it’s shameful, and it was awful, and it was terrifying, but he just made me feel like I didn’t have a choice."
Lawler said, "He ended up raping me. I made it very clear that I didn’t want to." Again, Bikram has previously denied allegations of sexual wrongdoing.
The podcast also features Liz Winfield, another former Bikram instructor, who describes seeing a Facebook page for Bikram teachers start "exploding" with information about the yoga guru's alleged offenses against women in the organization.
The podcast is 45 minutes long, and well worth the listen for anyone interested in the alleged abuses of power and acts of sexual intimidation by Choudhury. Be fore warned, however, that the episode includes specific discussion and descriptions of acts of sexual violence, and as such may be highly disturbing to some listeners.
Henderson, according to The Wrap, described the allegations against Choudhury as a "quintessential" example of the "Me Too" movement, even though it happened years before the national conversation caught up.
"There does seem to be some shock and recognition that this was a quintessential #MeToo moment, which played out a couple of years before we got to this stage," she said.
It's unclear when, if ever, the 74-year-old Choudhury will face the American justice system again. He currently resides outside the country, and in May of 2017 a warrant was issued for his arrest. Choudhury failed to pay the $7 million 2016 judgment against him, and as such now faces arrest in the U.S. with a bail amount set at $8 million.