My introduction to yoga was through Bikram Yoga, specifically Bikram Yoga Rockville just around the corner from my home here in the DC Metro Area.

If you’ve followed this blog or my other blog, you’re already aware that Bikram Yoga, in a very real and profound way, changed my life.

I didn’t start practicing in October 2011 because I thought I would grow spiritually or eventually begin to heal from past abuse and emotional pain. On the contrary, my motivation was more materialistic and vain. I joined the Bikram Yoga studio because I wanted to get physically fit and maybe heal a knee injury I had been living with for far too many years.

Within days of practicing Bikram Yoga, I was able to stop taking Advil. I could even walk up and down stairs without fearing I’d topple or lose my footing.

Within a few months of starting, I turned 40 and discovered at my annual doctor’s visit that I had lost weight and lowered my blood pressure. There was no doubt that I was gaining energy, too. Soon, the emotional and spiritual benefits of my practice would be evident to myself and to others in my life.

A little over a year into my practice, the accusations that Bikram Choudhury, creator of the Bikram Yoga series and founder of the Bikram Yoga empire, raped women (yes, plural) who had attended his yoga teacher training certification. On the heels of these revelations, past employees of the yoga guru soon came forward with disturbing allegations of their own, depicting Bikram Choudhury as a racist tyrant who ran his business “like a cult.”

Here is a list of recent stories covering the allegations:

Bikram Yoga Founder Accused of Sexual Assaults ABC News Nightline – February 26, 2014

Women Suing Hot Yoga Guru for Alleged Sexual Assault Come Forward, ABC News – February 26, 2014

Bikram yoga guru accused of rape hires former White House lawyer, The Telegraph – January 31, 2014

Bikram Feels the Heat, Vanity Fair – January 1, 2014

Women who accused Bikram yoga founder of rape speak out against the millionaire ‘guru’ after ‘he forced one victim into a yoga pose during an attack’, The Daily Mail – December 6, 2013

Bikram Yoga’s Embattled Founder: The Alleged Rapes and Sexual Harassment Claims Against Guru Bikram Choudhury, Vanity Fair – December 3, 2013

Bikram Yoga Founder Blasted For Alleged Rape, Sexual Harassment And Racism In Explosive Lawsuit, The Huffington Post – August 6, 2013

I can’t say I was completely surprised. Even before I stepped foot into the Bikram Yoga studio here in Maryland, I had perused the Bikram Yoga website. The images of Bikram Choudhury sweating and practicing and standing like a dictator before large numbers of yoga practitioners kind of repulsed me. Silly me, I shamed myself for being so judgmental and was determined to not let my unfair prejudices keep me from trying something that could possibly help me.

After I started practicing, I gradually started learning a little more about how Bikram Yoga studios are managed, how Bikram Yoga teachers are trained and how other yoga disciplines viewed Bikram Yoga.

Briefly, if you want to teach and promote yourself as a teacher of the Bikram Yoga series, you must go through the 9-week Bikram Yoga certification intensive taught twice each year. You have your choice of either going to Los Angeles or splurging and going to Thailand.

If you do not go through this specific training, you can not teach the Bikram Yoga series.

Fine. I get that. Seems fair.

But this is what bothers me a bit:

If and when you are able to open up your own Bikram Yoga studio, part of your membership revenue as a Bikram Yoga instructor and studio owner must be paid to Bikram, Inc. of which Bikram Choudhury is the “Boss” and CEO. This is the fast-food franchise model applied to yoga.

So even after you carve out 9 weeks away from your family and friends, pay between $11,400 to $15,500 for training (depending on your preferred room accommodations) and spend more time after training improving your poses and ability to teach effectively, Bikram Choudhury wants more of you if you decide to run a studio with his name “Bikram” on the sign.

You can’t teach Bikram Yoga without Bikram training and then you can’t call yourself a Bikram studio or say your class is a Bikram class without paying more money? It all seems very non-yogi-like to me.

Despite all the yucky sensations I was feeling and tasting, I kept paying my monthly dues and attending classes. I just loved my teachers and the other yogis at the studio.

But the rape allegations have stopped me in my tracks. I have only attended a handful of classes at the Bikram Yoga studio since January 1, 2014. Instead, I have been practicing yoga at home (YouTube is full of great teachers and free videos!) and at another yoga studio where I am participating in 200-hour yoga teacher training.

I’m struggling. After all, Bikram Choudhury hasn’t been found guilty. However, as an advocate who is determined to bring as much awareness to the forefront about pathological, abusive predators as I can, I MUST take a stand and believe that these women are telling the truth. Too much of what they say and the struggles they repeat about finally coming forward have me more than convinced.

As far as Bikram Choudhury’s responses and defense…his words echo classic perpetrator speak. I can’t deny what I hear and what I know about abusers. I can’t. I believe Bikram Choudhury is an abusive rapist and has hurt and harmed far more than just these few women brave enough to come forward.

Today, I am left to mourn my Bikram Yoga practice. I never revered Bikram Choudhury as my guru. However, I looked to my Bikram Yoga instructors for nearly two (2) years for spiritual guidance and support. I have zero regrets. I also know that there are predators everywhere–teachers teaching other styles of yoga throughout the world preying on the vulnerabilities of women and men. Nothing I do can stop that from happening.

But I have the power to disconnect from the negative energy in my life that simply doesn’t seem to be dissipating. If one day Bikram Choudhury releases the studios from paying the franchise fee, I may go back.

And if my information about the franchises is erroneous, please let me know. If there are Bikram Yoga-trained instructors freely teaching the 26-posture series without being obligated to pay Bikram, Inc., let me know.


© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.

Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.

Bikram Yoga, Fears, Love, Stress
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Join the conversation! 40 Comments

  1. All Bikram does is provide studio space to practice yoga. Anyone who starts thinking he is some kind of miracle worker deserves what they get, and apparently Bikram has “a lot of love to give”. Ahem.


  2. […] me asking for an interview. She had stumbled upon my yoga post written back in March 2014 about why I gave up Bikram yoga and thought, perhaps, talking to me would provide her with some insight and possible inspiration […]


  3. I feel awful, I just rang my studio to say I wouldn’t be coming back and that I was grateful for everything they did to me – I was pointed towards the scandal over the weekend and I couldn’t ethically continue going.

    I know what it’s like to be taken advantage of, and to have no one believe you because the perpetrator is selling something people want to buy. Most people choose the product.

    If they dropped the ‘Bikram’ and just did hot yoga I would definitely go there, but I can’t in good conscience practice and wax lyrical about something that facilitates this kind of abuse 😦


    • *for me


    • I understand exactly how you feel. I waited patiently for many, many months and finally found a studio that dropped the “Bikram” name but continues to teach the series. I feel completely different, completely at ease now doing the postures, and I am glad I made the decision to step away when I did. Your head and heart are thanking you, too. 🙂 ❤


  4. I love practicing yoga in the heat and I love the 26 Bikram poses and how I feel during and after a class. I like very much my local Bikram yoga schools. The class leaders are sane, respectful, friendly and well informed. I like them very much! I don’t look to my Bikram class for spiritual leadership and I don’t look to Choudry Bikram as a guru..although many do. I’ve seen him speak. He was 2 hours late and he was RIDICULOUS. He is irreverent, very funny, VERY egotistical, stupidly dressed, and obviously a flirt. he struck me as an idiot. I have no doubt that he harassed and likely raped the students who are making the claims. If he did, he should be punished. In additional to looking closely at Bikram himself, we MUST also look closely at the culture from which he came. This IS NO EXCUSE for his actions. However, he unfortunately does not stand alone. The culture – which is much revered by many westerners as enlightened – is fraught with misogyny, abuse and organized rape. I know several former hippies who visited Ashrams and “gurus” in India who fell prey to sexual harassment by the so-called leader. Just this morning I read of terrible cases in India where female babies are aborted and women are sold as wives only to be abused and disrespected. Ugh! What does one do? Make smart choices, lead by example, talk and educate others about issues and in our capitalist society, vote with our wallet. HOT YOGA yes – Bikram schools that pay a fee to Choudry Bikram – not for now. Not until the system takes a stand, recognizes the issue and makes a change.


    • Thank you, Janelle. You make excellent points. 🙂


    • Janelle,
      I agree with the fact that Indian culture has plenty of elements and traditions that could result in misogyny and abuse of women (e.g.: dowry system abuse, caste based abuse, illiteracy, violence towards women, religious rites that exclude women in certain aspects, etc); however, I don’t think this aspect of Indian culture is creating the abuse we see in yoga communities in the US.
      I would offer that these yoga abuses are more about the abuse of power dynamic that happens when leaders are not accountable, and they have free reign and silence in their organizations. I say this because there have been non-Indian yoga gurus (John Friend, Rodney Yee) who have ended up abusing their disciples too.

      Also, specific yogic philosophies like Tantra can lend themselves to abuse, but even that would require followers to suspend their belief systems and go along with what they’re told.

      I think smart choices and education is key. Any decent organization should have policies and training in place to prevent sexual abuse – and that includes yoga organizations. Yoga studios need to have training on sexual abuse for their students. It can be a simple online video that outlines behavior patterns to watch out for, and what to do/whom to report to. I just don’t get why they don’t implement such a system.



    • Good points, Prasad. My son who is 9 takes karate. Every few weeks, the kids are given a reminder lesson on bullies and what to look out for and who to talk to if they get bullied. There are plenty of opportunities in the yoga community and in studios to offer similar types of open forums to discuss sexual assault and abuse red flags. It’s like the big elephant in the room that many find too tasteless to discuss, as if it’s not happening or something! As if people want to maintain the illusion that stuff like that really isn’t happening in the yoga community. Talk about suspending disbelief. 🙂


  5. Hi, Paula. I just posted your most recent article on my business and personal fb and twitter accounts. I did this because I have been looking for intelligent voices who champion the necessity for change in the Bikram community. Thank you for being such a voice.
    We all agree that Bikram yoga works, but while it remains pure, it is clear that the man does not.
    I recently re-branded and changed the name of my Bikram studio from Bikram Yoga Centre to BeHot Yoga Toronto ( I am the first in Toronto to do so.
    While I know that I face challenges from this decision, much like yourself, I feel liberated for having made this choice. A sense of freedom has overcome me.
    I know that other Bikram studios are afraid of losing business by changing their name, but I simply felt that it was the right thing to do. Our studio is filled with lovely individuals and my staff have an integrity and kindness that embodies the studio with the kind of caring energy that is no longer conducive to the Bikram name.
    To put it simply, the message we carry no longer coincides with the dark energy that surrounds the man.
    I have written a book that is being published by Morgan James Publishing in NYC entitled, “I Hate Yoga”. It’s a hate-love journey that begins by stripping yoga of all of the bastardizations it has bequeathed from western society, including social media, religion and yes, Bikram Choudhury.
    Then, it builds yoga back up again, so that we can all benefit from its purity.
    It is my hope that the book will provide perspective for those who are struggling with ethical dilemmas such as the one you have been navigating through so courageously and honestly.
    Sorry for the long-winded message. I simply wanted to share and say thank you.


    • Thank you, Paul. I am thrilled you found my article and shared it. I’m also thrilled that you are publishing your book, “I Hate Yoga.” I can completely relate for obvious reasons. I recently earned a 200-hour YTT certification and have been struggling with finding a studio where I can teach and remain true to my core beliefs and the purity of yoga. I believe there are many of us who feel the same and your book will certainly foster healthy conversations and a collective transformation of the practice in the West. I can’t wait for your book’s launch…namaste!!! ❤


  6. Perfect timing coming across this conversation. I am about 3 weeks from the grand-opening of my studio in Brazil. I first came across Bikram Yoga 2 years ago on a trip to NYC. To my surprise, upon my return home, I could not find any studios near my house, the closest one was 400 miles away. I tried home practice. I tried convincing studios owners to come to my small town. I tried stopping the practice, then I gave in, signed up and completed the TT last November, oblivious of the whole situation. During this last eight months my thoughts were all over the place with the whole Bikram issue.
    Paula, just to let you know, this was exactly what I was looking for, refreshing voices, true inspiring people.
    I am now officially HOT YOGA VINHEDO!
    Please come and join my class. There will be a space in a small town where people have never heard of Hot Yoga that will experience extra-ordinary benefits in all levels. Had I known the whole situation I would not have chosen the same path, but would probably end up in the same place, bringing yoga to the people.
    Like Paula, I stand for what I believe. As vegan, Yogi, mom, wife, teacher, life lover, nature person, I do what I can while visiting this planet. Definitely don’t stop practicing what you love.
    Thanks everyone!


    • Wonderful, Suzana!! I’m going to visit your website. And you’re in Brazil? I’ve always wanted a really good excuse to visit your country. 🙂 Namaste!


    • My website is a space holder at the moment. There is soooooo much work to be done to open a hot yoga studio, that the site is sitting back for now! Paula and all of you, please do come and visit Brazil, we really need enthusiastic hot yoga souls. A country of 200 million people, there is a total of 6 hot yoga studios and 2 Bikram Yoga studios. I am on my way to add number 7 to the list!


  7. Thank you for writing this. I feel exactly the same way. But luckily there is a local studio where I live that was one of the first to drop the Bikram name in light of the allegations. The people are great here – all about the yoga but no longer able to support Bikram the man in good conscience. They also openly offer Int and Adv Series – which is an added bonus. I would definitely talk to your studio owners. Big changes are afoot in the Bikram Community.


    • Thank you, Ellen! I recently found a former Bikram studio not far from me that dropped the “Bikram” from it’s studio name and the franchise. I am thrilled. Unfortunately, the studio is a little further from me than the other studio, so I’m finding it a little difficult to rework my schedule…but it will happen; I’m hopeful! 🙂


  8. Hi,
    I am from India and Bikram always made me uncomfortable. We have many of these ‘masters’ roaming around, and almost all of them are conmen, and Bikram is no different, except he has created an outstanding sequence of postures, and he has strong business acumen. Nonetheless, it is sad to see so many folks in his organization not standing up to him and condoning his behavior. (this will hurt Bikram Yoga big time down the road). The plus side of his authoritarian mcyoga approach is that he has kept the actual physical postures very pure – i.e., instructors aren’t making random modifications, or dry humping students etc, which is a big plus from my perspective – the traditional posture and rigor and discipline has been retained.

    I also stopped practicing Bikram Yoga in light of the allegations, but my injuries compelled me to go back. Here is how I mitigated my concerns:

    1. The franchise system is relatively new, older studios are ‘independent’ – i.e., they pay their ‘Bikram dues’ once, and then all the money they make doesn’t go to Bikram.
    2. Bikram makes a lot of his money from teacher trainings – and a TT candidate must be endorsed by their local studio. So please insist with your local studio either to stop sending trainees over, or to at least assure you that they have a rape prevention education for each trainee before endorsing them for TT, so that at least there are no victims.
    3. There are ‘rebels’ within the Bikram system. Some have taken away the Bikram name, and are getting teacher trainings from Tony Sanchez, who also trained with Bikram’s teacher So you can message Tony and ask who his students are in your area, and take classes with them.
    4. Hope and pray this scumbag gets what he deserves, and in the mean time, you can practice at home. Ask your more rebellious instructors about it, or google for how-to’s – basically, you find an enclosed little utility room, throw in some hot rocks and heaters etc, and you can practice at home. But it takes some serious self discipline, but maybe you could band together a few folks who feel similarly as you, and you guys can practice in someones house together.

    In my case, I just went back to a Bikram studio, but I know the founder personally, he is a rebel when it comes to the larger organization, he is on the same page as me in terms of ethics, he is all about yoga for the people, and does a lot for the community. So I figured why punish someone like him because of Bikram ? I’ll just ride this wave out.

    Remember that the people who came before Bikram wanted the whole world to benefit from yoga. Bikram’s guru told him to take this discipline to the world, and Bikram is failing in his mission, because he’s lost focus (putting it mildly)


    • Oh, wow. Thank you so much for your support, insight and knowledge, Prasad. If you don’t mind, I’d like write a follow-up post based to share some of the information you provided regarding alternatives for a home practice, questions to ask an existing studio, and recommendations for rape awareness training for future Bikram yoga teachers before going off to training. Namaste!


    • Paula, yes absolutely! I hope others benefit from these ideas. You can email me if you have any further clarifications.


  9. […] you read my post from January about mourning my Bikram Yoga practice, you know I gave up the practice after much struggle, thought, and […]


  10. […] I stopped practicing Bikram Yoga, I started exploring a home practice using videos I find on YouTube that fit my level and interest. […]


  11. That guy doesn’t give a rat’s ass about spreading the message of health & wellness — all he cares about is $$$. He sounds like a power hungry a-hole and no doubt a sociopath or at the very least a narc.


    • Yes. You can see my dilemma. Well, it’s no longer a dilemma. It’s been a few days, and I’m feeling much better. You’ll be happy to know that I also am actively (and heartily) focusing on changing my diet to vegan. Stocking up on coconut milk and tofu and veggies and rice. It’s only been three days, but I’m finding it to be a much easier transition than I originally expected it to be!! Washing away the negative energy to make room for something more positive and good. Thank you, Susan! 🙂 ❤


    • I am so glad. This makes me happy. And you are most certainly welcome.


  12. Somewhat echoing what Jacqueline said, teachers definitely don’t pay any of their income to Bikram, and although new studios should theoretically pay Bikram when they open a studio, many do not (and certainly do not make ongoing payments). Also (I’m not 100% sure on this one), but I believe the franchise agreement was never formalized, and even Bikram said in my teacher training–yes, I am a Bikram teacher–that franchising was an idea that came from senior teachers and studio owners, not him. For what that’s worth.

    Also, know that there is serious and ongoing discussion amongst those of us working in the Bikram yoga community about the lawsuits, Bikram’s behavior, and how we want to move forward and deal with these facts.

    It might be worthwhile to talk to your local studio owners about whether they pay Bikram, how they feel about the lawsuits, and so forth. It may give you more insight, relieve some of your cognitive dissonance, and perhaps even help you to feel ethically comfortable practicing Bikram yoga again. (Or maybe it won’t–but it won’t cost you anything you find out, either!)

    Although there is clearly horrible stuff we need to work through, most of us have wonderful local yoga communities that DO embody yoga philosophy.

    All the best!


    • Thank you, Ariseile. Are you in the US? I went to the Bikram site, and it’s very evident that the franchise is real and happening in the US. There are a few states not involved but that is changing.

      To be honest, because of the work I do in the DV community and the women I am friends with who have been raped, my cognitive dissonance runs deep. It’s only been two days since I’ve made the decision and I’m already experiencing much relief. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I appreciate it. 🙂


    • I do– I teach in the Bay Area in California (although I did also guest teach at Rockville back in August…. such a small world we live in).

      I did a Master’s in Women’s Studies, which naturally involved a fair amount of research into domestic violence, violence against women, rape culture, et cetera, so I understand and respect your feelings and background. I’m not trying to change your mind, just wanted to add some clarifying information and opinions. 🙂 I also appreciate this conversation happening anywhere and everywhere, and especially when it happens as a genuine dialogue instead of devolving into blind judgements and stereotypes. Also, thanks for the hard work you do!


    • Very small world! Wow! So you know how special the Rockville studio is!! When I say I’m mourning, I’m truly mourning. This was not easy. Not at all. I’ve had many conversations with friends who practice and who don’t practice. Thank you, again. Namaste!


  13. We don’t pay any fees of any kind to Bikram and neither do any of the other studios I know of here on Vancouver Island. We love the yoga that we practice and I know that it is a tremendous gift in my life. I have this practice in my heart and no man can take the beauty of that away from me – I will not give away my power.


  14. I understand your desire to support those women but in my opinion the action you are taking is punishing the innocent. Those caring instructors are the people you actually have a relationship with. They have helped and supported you as you gained lots of benefits. If you want to DO something then perhaps you could donate do the legal costs for those women. But don’t punish the innocent.


  15. I understand that you feel you should DO something to support those women but on my opinion you are punishing innocent people, those caring instructors you have an actual relationship with, who have helped you and supported you. This controversy should not interfere with all that you have gained. If you want to DO something then perhaps you could donate to the legal costs for those women. But don’t punish the innocent.


    • I don’t think the studio owner or the other instructors are going to suffer or be affected by my individual decision. The people I have met through the studio know I take my practice and my life as seriously as I need to take it. I’m not abandoning them. I’m freeing myself. Being the dedicated yogis they are, i fount they’ll try shaming me for making this decision which has taken me almost a year to make. And I’ve been looking into other ways to continue to support these women.


    • The thing is, if you go to a Bikram studio, you are putting money rather directly into the pocket of Bikram, and some people see that, as well as their attendance, as tacitly excusing or condoning his actions. Everyone has to follow their own ethical path. I give props to Paula for doing this, because it’s tough. I myself left a Zendo I very much liked, and the community bonds I had built, because of the “creeper” behavior of someone in authority.


  16. Unfortunately, yoga is not immune from the base-levels within the human condition. Others, besides Bikram, have also been reduced to these levels. A follower (Armit something) of the guru who started Kripalu yoga, in the USA, also betrayed his followers. Kripalu yoga was founded and bears the name of the guru from India…they have their headquarters in Lenox MA. I originally started with Kripalu yoga. I never met this Armit, but know many who have met him in the 70s; they and others, across the country were very hurt by Armit’s actions and have distanced themselves from him (he has reestablished himself in Florida with a new brand of yoga).

    That being said, I must also say that I have NEVER had a instructor mistreat me, or yell at me or threaten me! If I had I would have LEFT. I have been very fortunate that ALL yoga instructors I know here locally, some trained in Kripalu yoga, ARE the most wonderful humans I know!

    Bottom line…as with anything…if you are NOT comfortable LEAVE and don’t look back!


    • It’s rather frustrating. I’m going to miss the studio and the connections I’ve made, but I feel like this was a sign that I need to move on and release myself from the imposed cognitive dissonance I was inflicting on myself. I simply could not let it go while there. My problem? Of course, it is! But I’ve learned enough about pain to understand its within myself to free myself from it.


  17. So sorry to hear this.


  18. Paula. This really was so informative. We have several Bikram studios near us and I went several times a week for some time. I often experienced a disconnect between the message of yoga and how the class was taught. I remember once doing something like putting my hands in a prayer pose before a pose, only to hear the instructor say, “Do the pose as you are f***ing taught.” What?! His energy scared me. He was a Bikram “associate”- i.e. I guess they vacationed together or something. But I left the practice soon after that. I miss it- a lot- but after that experience it never felt “right”. .


    • OMG, Kimberly! That’s terrible. I have never had a bad experience in a Bikram studio. I have been to three: Rockville, NYC and Exton, PA. I’m struggling to find a studio, even a non-Bikram studio, in which I feel comfortable. That’s why I have been increasing my home practice. I prefer to practice with others, but I want to stay true to my gut. You know. We take that for granted too often and I want to stop doing that as much as I can. When I recognize it. 🙂


  19. Reblogged this on Paula's Pontifications and commented:
    This was a tough one to write…


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