Bikram Choudhury is an Indian-born-American yoga teacher and author who is the founder of Bikram Yoga, a series of 26 hatha yoga postures and two breathing exercises done in 90 minutes in a hot environment of 104°F. Emigrating from India in the early 1970s, he taught yoga in Japan before arriving in the United States and starting his first yoga studio in San Francisco. His form of yoga became so popular that he introduced a teacher training program to provide licenses to others to open Bikram Yoga studios. His unique style has attracted celebrities like Gene Reynolds, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, George Clooney, and Lady Gaga, athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John McEnroe, as well as U.S. Presidents including Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon. At the peak of his career, thousands of instructors taught his yoga across the world. However, his yoga empire crumbled following several lawsuits of sexual abuse and discrimination against racial and sexual minorities.
Childhood & Early Life
Bikram Choudhury was born on February 10, 1944 in Calcutta, British India (now Kolkata, West Bengal, India). He began practicing yoga at the age of three and spent up to six hours per day perfecting his poses.
According to his book, he trained under Bishnu Charan Ghosh, the younger brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, and won the National India Yoga Championship for three consecutive years in his teens. However, the first ever Yoga competition in India was held in 1974, after he left the country, which prompted many to question his credibility.
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Bikram Choudhury claims to have left India in 1970 after his guru, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, instructed him to spread the practice throughout the world. He first went to Japan, where he began to heat the room while performing yoga after finding himself shivering through his postures during winter.
He claimed that his "good friend", then US President Richard Nixon, invited him to America and also helped him get his visa, and in return, he cured him of phlebitis.
In 1972, he launched Bikram’s Yoga College of India in a small studio in the North Beach section of San Francisco, followed by more studios in Beverly Hills, California and in Hawaii.
He arranged a sequence of 26 yoga postures and two breathing exercises to work every muscle in the body and named it 'Bikram Yoga'. His form of yoga was supposed to be performed at 104-degree Fahrenheit to mimic the climate of India, and also to allow the body to loosen faster.
In the 1990s, he began offering nine-week-long teacher certification courses which allowed instructors to open a Bikram Yoga studio. In the following decades, thousands of instructors began offering his particular blend of yoga all over the world.
In 2002, he claimed that his series of postures were under copyright, and in 2011, filed a lawsuit against Yoga to the People, a rival studio by a former student. Subsequently, the United States Copyright Office issued a clarification that yoga postures cannot be copyrighted the way he claimed.
Bikram Choudhury faced several sexual abuse lawsuits against him starting in March 2013 when Bikram teacher, Sarah Baughn, filed a sexual harassment suit. In May 2013, two more women accused him of rape, sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment, and more.
In July 2013, his former Head of Legal and International Affairs, Minakshi 'Micki' Jafa-Bodden, who was fired in March, filed a lawsuit claiming sexual harassment, gender discrimination, assault, defamation, negligence, and breach of contract. After he fled to India in early 2016, the Los Angeles County Court awarded $7 million to Jafa-Boden and gave her control of his yoga business after he failed to pay.
Bikram Choudhury is best known for creating Bikram Yoga, which earned him over $5 million a year. He also published two books, 'Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class' (1987) and 'Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga' (2007).
Family & Personal Life
Bikram Choudhury married yoga therapist, Rajashree Choudhury, founder of the United States Yoga Federation, in 1984, and had two children with her: daughter Laju and son Anurag. In the wake of sexual abuse lawsuits against him, Rajashree filed for divorce in December 2015 citing irreconcilable differences, which was finalized in May 2016.
Following divorce, Rajashree was awarded the houses in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, his luxury cars, and was indemnified from any financial responsibility in his pending lawsuits. Bikram Choudhury fled to India in May 2016 and settled in the hill station Lonavala, but recently in 2018, he held a training program in Acapulco, Mexico.
Bikram Choudhury claimed to have suffered a crippling weightlifting accident at the age of 20. While he was told he would never walk again, he fully recovered within 6 months with the help of his guru Bishnu Ghosh.