Bikram Yoga

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Bikram Yoga is a system of yoga that Bikram Choudhury synthesized from traditional hatha yoga techniques.[1] It became popular in the early 1970s.[2] All Bikram Yoga Beginning Series classes run for 90 minutes and consist of the same series of 26 postures, including two breathing exercises.[3] Bikram Yoga is a hot yoga style, and is ideally practiced in a room heated to 35–42 °C (95–108 °F) with a humidity of 40%.[4] All official Bikram classes are taught by Bikram-certified teachers, who have completed nine weeks of training endorsed by Choudhury.[5] Bikram-certified teachers are taught a standardized dialogue to run the class, but are encouraged to develop their teaching skills the longer they teach. This results in varying deliveries and distinct teaching styles.[4]

Bikram Choudhury leading a class, for Bikram yoga, at the L.A. Convention Center in 2003.[6]


  • 1 History
  • 2 Health effects
  • 3 Controversy
    • 3.1 Competition
    • 3.2 Copyright claims on Bikram Yoga
    • 3.3 Sexual assault
  • 4 The 26 Asanas (postures)
  • 5 References


Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Bikram Yoga system, is also the founder of the Yoga College of India. Born in Calcutta in 1944, Choudhury began practicing yoga at age four. He stated that he practiced yoga 4–6 hours every day. At the age of thirteen, he asserts that he won the National India Yoga Championship and was undefeated for the following three years and retired as the undisputed All-India National Yoga Champion.

Choudhury later devised the 26 postures sequence and founded Bikram’s Yoga College of India. He has also written books and sings.[8]

As of 2006, he had 1,650 yoga studios around the world.[9] In 2012, there were 330 studios in the United States and 600 worldwide.[10]

Health effects[edit]

A 2013 review of adverse effects from yoga found that Pranayama and Bikram were the most commonly cited styles, and found harm arising mostly in instructors who practiced intensely over a long period of time and who used advanced positions like handstands; in Bikram most of the adverse events arose from the heat and included low salt levels due to excessive water drinking and sweating.[11]



One controversial component of Bikram Yoga pertains to the prevalence of Yoga Asana Championships, regionally and nationally. While practitioners of other forms of yoga maintain that competition contradicts the idea of peace and unity, Choudhury contends, “Competition is the foundation for all democratic societies. For without ‘Competition’, there is no democracy.”[12][citation needed]

There are second-hand reports that yoga competitions have been around for over a century in India, where yoga originated.[13][citation needed] Yoga Sports Federation (founded by Bikrams ex-wife Rajashree Choudhury) which hosted The 9th Annual Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup in June 2012 says that yoga competitions inspire both practicing yogis and newcomers to sharpen their skills. Another aim of the Federation is to turn Yoga Asana into a recognized Olympic sport.[14]

Copyright claims on Bikram Yoga[edit]

Main article: Copyright claims on Bikram Yoga

Choudhury has claimed that Bikram Yoga is under copyright and that it could not be taught or presented by anyone whom he had not authorized. Choudhury began making those claims in 2011. In 2011 Choudhury started a lawsuit against Yoga to the People, a competing yoga studio founded by a former student of Choudhury’s and with a location near one of the Bikram Yoga studios in New York, and later started another against the Florida-based Evolation Yoga. Choudhury lost at first instance in both cases and appealed the decision, but the Court of Appeal ultimately dismissed his copyright claim over yoga poses in Bikram Yoga.[15][16]

As a result of that lawsuit, the United States Copyright Office issued a clarification that yoga postures (asanas) could not be copyrighted in the way claimed by Choudhury, and that Yoga to the People and others could continue to freely teach these exercises.[17]

Sexual assault[edit]

Two lawsuits accusing Choudhury of rape were filed in May 2013, in which a Jane Doe alleges sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment, and other counts in addition to the rape allegation. It describes a cult-like atmosphere where Choudhury’s followers help him find young women to assault. “Other persons in defendant Bikram Choudhury’s inner circle, were aware of defendant Bikram Choudhury’s pattern and practice of causing, inducing or persuading young women to enroll in teacher training classes to become yoga instructors only so he can sexually assault and/or rape them,” the lawsuit claims.[18]

The suits paint a cult-like atmosphere at the training camps. Trainees were allegedly told that Choudhury is on the same level as Jesus Christ or the Buddha, that Bikram yoga can cure cancer and that practitioners will be able to live to 100 years old. Trainees were bullied and humiliated as well as praised, the suits say, and Choudhury allegedly gave lectures in which he disparaged gays, Americans and made ethnic slurs. Jane Doe 2 claims that Choudhury recruits volunteers from overseas who are “so in fear of defendant Bikram Choudhury’s wrath that they will travel to the US and risk violating immigration laws in order to serve him. Once in the US these volunteers work for little or zero pay. “Their duties include grooming him, massaging him, making his tea, bring[ing] him food and being forced to submit to sexual assaults and rapes against their will,” the suit alleges.[19]

Minakshi “Micki”Jafa-Bodden served as Head of Legal and International Affairs from Spring 2011 to March 13, 2013 when she claims she was “abruptly and unlawfully terminated” according to the court documents filed on July 12, 2013 in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles. But perhaps the more serious matters lie within the 2 years that Jafa-Bodden worked closely with Choudhury, during which she claims she was victim and witness to Choudhury’s “severe, ongoing, pervasive and offensive conduct” especially to women, as well as homosexuals, African Americans and basically every other minority. The complaint is the fourth sex-based discrimination/sexual harassment/rape related suit filed this year against Choudhury.[20]

Bikram teacher Sarah Baughn filed a sexual harassment suit in March (just before Jafa-Bodden was fired), and two other unnamed women filed similar suits accusing Choudhury of sexual harassment, intimidation and rape in May. Shea Law Offices and Shegerian & Associates, the attorneys representing Baughn, now represent a total of six women claiming Bikram sexually assaulted and/or raped them.[21] In an April, 2015 CNN interview with Baughn and Bikram, Bikram spoke out for the first time denying the allegations. Bikram went on to say “I have no intention to have sex with any of my students or any women… Sometimes students, they commit suicide. Lots of students of mine, they commit suicide because I will not have sex with them”.[22]

In April 2015, the accusations raised larger questions in the yoga community, including an article by the Washington Post “asking whether it’s wise to put so much faith in a guru”.[23]

August 18, 2015, Petra Starke who was his attorney, President and CEO from 3/2013 to 1/2015 filed a complaint in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles (A6037-90064). This complaint alleged nine issues including breach of contract, wrongful termination and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment.

October 25, 2016 HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel airs an interview with Choudhury at one of his training programs in India. Correspondent Andrea Kremer also interviews three women who accuse him of raping them.[24]

Quotes from their interviews:

Jill Lawler: “I felt so disgusting, but I just did what he told me to do, which was basically, like, manually jerk him off. I hated doing it. But I felt like I owed him, you know? I felt like I owed him for, like, my life.”

Jill Lawler: “He hurt me, he assaulted me.”
Andrea Kremer: “Bikram forced you to have sex?”
Jill Lawler: “Yeah.”

Andrea Kremer: “What do you think made you vulnerable to him?”
Jill Lawler: “Like, he was my guru. He wa—I can’t even explain. Like, I really, really loved him. You know? I really, really did.”
Maggie Genthner: “He pulled me on the bed. I’m, like, screaming like, ‘No. Stop. Don’t do this. Please don’t do this.’ And he starts calling me an idiot, just over and over again. And then he penetrates me and I scream, ‘You’re hurting me. You’re hurting me.’ I screamed it. And he replies, ‘It’s supposed to hurt.’ All of a sudden, like, the veil lifts, the veil of who I think this person is.”

Sarah Baughn: “I wanted to kill myself. I tried several times to kill myself.”

Sarah Baughn: “He was in charge of all of these people, all of whom just sat and listened and laughed and applauded and regarded him as yoga god. People stand up for this person really no matter what.”[25]

The 26 Asanas (postures)[edit]

The following are the 26 postures of Bikram Yoga. These are taught in the Beginning Bikram Yoga Class. The sequence is taught by people who have been trained and certified by Bikram Choudhury.[26]


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  • ^ Yoga Dork “Former Bikram Legal Advisor Files Extremely Disturbing Lawsuit over Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, Assault”
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  • ^ “Bikram yoga founder denies sex assault allegations”. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
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