A new documentary on yoga guru Bikram Choudhury
In the 1970s, Bikram Choudhury, a yoga guru, landed in the US and began to teach Americans how to fix bad knees and bad legs. The toe-touching and the back stretches that he taught students and aspiring yoga teachers, took place in hotel rooms heated to 120 degrees fahrenheit. This, he branded ‘Hot Yoga’; how hot some of the attendees learnt at great personal cost, over and above the tuition fees of $10,000 per person.
Allegations against Choudhury, ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to rape, began circulating in the 2000s. The scandal has now got a new lease of life in the post #MeToo era with a new Netflix documentary, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, directed by Oscar winner, Eva Orner. Orner is an Australian producer who had made the documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, on the killing of an Afghan taxi driver by American soldiers in Bagram. Bikram is a chilling account in which former students detail the sexual harassment they experienced during their nine-week-long training sessions.
Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, Choudhury’s head of legal affairs, who had filed a case to protest termination of her services, is featured in the film. She says there were various red flags pointing to his aberrations. Former students say he would insist they drink water before training and then not allow them to use the toilet; they would be called to his room to watch Bollywood films, and be groped.
The film also underlines that the teacher has, so far, not faced any criminal charges; that he continues to teach women and train them to be teachers –– his last camp was in Mexico in 2018 –– and has managed to escape the consequences of his alleged actions.