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Ex-student sues Bikram Yoga founder for sexual harassment

A case of alleged sexual impropriety has once again wrenched the yoga world out of its equanimity.

According to The New York Times , an ex-student of Bikram Choudhury has filed a lawsuit against the hot-yoga guru, accusing him of sexual harassment, discrimination and defamation.

Sarah Baughn, 28, alleges Choudhury made repeated advances on her when she took a yoga-teacher training course with him in 2005. In her claim filed to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Baughn accuses the millionaire founder of the Bikram Yoga franchise of pressing his body against hers while adjusting her posture, making sexually charged comments, instructing her to kiss him in front of other students and assaulting her in a hotel room, The New York Times says.

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"Sarah dropped out of college to study with Bikram, and every penny she had went to him," Baughn's lawyer Mary Shea Hagebols told the newspaper. "She was a true believer and student."

Gawker reports that Baughn had taken out loans to pay for the $7,500 (U.S.) nine-week course with the yoga master. She alleges that when she turned him down, Choudhury threatened to end her yoga-teaching career.

As William Broad, author of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards , controversially suggested in The New York Times last year, sex and yoga have a history of being entwined, and thus, he claimed, there have been no shortage of sex scandals involving charismatic senior yoga teachers.

But the problem is not that yoga is inherently sexy. ( Although it is sometimes marketed that way. ) Rather, influential yoga teachers are arguably too often put on a pedestal and perhaps given too much power.

When promoted to hero status, it can be tempting for many individuals, whether they're yogis, politicians or rock stars, to let their egos get the best of them. Which is not to say that sexual assault is excusable by any means, but it may explain why certain high-profile yoga personalities have been tangled in sex scandals.

As followers of John Friend, founder of the popular Anusara school of yoga, discovered last year, it is unwise to put one's faith (not to mention one's finances) in the hands of one individual. Reports that Friend had crossed the boundaries of the accepted yoga teacher-student relationship by having consensual sex with his students left Anusara practitioners reeling, forcing them to re-examine their perspectives of the man.

Is the yoga industry too wrapped up in the stardom of its gurus?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More


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