Controversial Bikram Yoga Guru Likes the Heat

PHOTO: Bikram Choudhury developed Bikrams Beginning Yoga Class, which requires participants to perform 26 poses over the course of 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees, in the 1970s, and has since turned it into a wildly successful business model.
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To his hard-bodied disciples, Bikram Choudhury is a yoga rock star.

Bikram, who, like Madonna, tends to go by one name only, developed the original "hot yoga," a rigorous sequence of 26 poses performed over the course of 90 minutes in a room heated to a stifling 105 degrees.

Bikram Yoga is Eastern mind-over-body discipline meets Western obsession with fitness. A booming business. Bikram has made millions off the sweat of others.

Years ago, Bikram trademarked his name and copyrighted his routine -- one of the first prominent yogis to do so. His Yoga College of India is not a traditional ashram. It's franchised, like McDonald's, so that the menu is the same at every Bikram school anywhere in the world.

In the 1970s, when he first came to California, Bikram quickly became a sort of a "guru to the stars," An entire wall of his Beverly Hills mansion is a tribute to his famous disciples and friends. There are photos of him with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, as well as politicians such as Indira Ghandi, Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy.

Bikram has instructed long list of Hollywood A-listers. Elizabeth Taylor, Raquel Welch, Shirley MacLaine, Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen were among his early followers.

"I am more American than any American. I am more Western than any Western person," Bikram said. "I'm kind of a spoiled rotten boy."

Bikram insists his form of yoga doesn't just improve the body and invigorate people's sex lives but that it also saves lives.

"I can make you live 100 years," he said. "Say you have a bad knee, you want to fix your knee, come to my class... Do the same 26 postures with a woman who has a uterus problem. Same 26 poses, the uterus will be taken care of. Your knee will be taken care of.

"I've cured patients who have absolutely no hope, 98 percent of heart was clogged, they don't even want surgery," Bikram continued. "Send him to me and eight months later I send him back, brand new heart like a panther heart."

Bikram, who often speaks in excited hyperbole, estimates that half a billion people have benefited directly or indirectly from his yoga.

He has certainly benefited. His yoga, his books and his trademarked line of yoga gear have made him a multi-millionaire, with a Beverly Hills mansion and a collection of cars worthy of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

He gave "Nightline" a tour of his impressive car collection, which fills a warehouse staffed by a team of mechanics. Bikram owns more than a dozen Rolls Royces, including one he said used to belong to the Queen Mother. He owns a vintage Mercedes limo that he said Hitler gave to the last British raja as a wedding present. He owns the Aston Martin he said James Bond drove in "Thunderball," as well as a Royal Daimler he said used to belong to reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.

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