May 3, 2023
Content warning: This story includes mentions of sexual assault.
In the fall of 2010, Bikram Choudhury, the then 66-year-old celebrity yogi, held a training session for aspiring Bikram Yoga instructors in a San Diego resort. The students had paid upwards of $10,000 each for the nine-week program. Choudhury alternated between walking through a sea of lithe, bent-over bodies and standing on a podium as he roared directions into a mic headset. “Go back! Way back! More back!” Later, as the attendees lay on their backs in savasana, Choudhury reportedly said that people should leave gay people “to die of AIDS” on an island.
At the end of the session, when Pandhora Williams, a student, asked Choudhury why he was “preaching hate” when yoga is about love, he snapped, saying, “We don’t sell love here, b****” and instructed an attendant to “get that Black b**** out of here.” She never returned, and he never refunded Williams her program fee.
The spiritual leader, yoga guru, and inventor of the hot yoga movement has allegedly verbally, sexually, and psychologically abused several women — claims which he denies vehemently. After several came forward with their harrowing accounts and his former lawyer sued him and won, Choudhury fled the U.S. in 2016. But for Bikram Yoga, things were business as usual. To this day, Choudhury conducts yoga teacher training around the world, outside of the U.S. Many still swear by their improved health after doing hot yoga. His story is one of an American dream gone completely wrong, and a yoga industry complex that still mints billions off the backs of others’ fears and aspirations.