Women Suing Hot Yoga Guru for Alleged Sexual Assault Come Forward

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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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.

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.”

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.

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