The founder of "hot yoga", Bikram Choudhury, has been accused of sexual harassment and discrimination by one of his top students.
The 67-year-old founder of the international Bikram yoga studio is alleged to have pursued protégé Sarah Baughn, 29, for years, claiming they were connected in a past life and his wife didn't understand him. Eventually his pursuit turned physical, she claims.
According to a suit filed in Los Angeles' superior court, Choudhury denied Baughn an international championship title she had been awarded and has prevented her from teaching "because of her past and continuing refusal to have sex with her guru".
The multimillionaire founder of the international chain claims to have taught yoga to US presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton. Celebrities such as Madonna, David Beckham, George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston and Lady Gaga have all practiced the yoga system, which consists of 26 sequential poses and takes place in rooms heated to over 38 degrees Celsius.
Choudhury and his wife, Rajashree, control the Bikram yoga empire from their home in Beverly Hills, California and have clashed in court with other yoga studios over what they claim is their patent on "hot yoga".
According to the suit, Choudhury told Baughn: "My wife is such a bitch, you have no idea." He told Baughn: "I am so lonely. I am dying. I can feel myself dying. I will not be alive if someone doesn't save me."
Baughn's suit describes how she began practising Bikram while a student of creative writing in 2004. She said that, encouraged by her yoga teachers, she dropped out of college at age 20 to dedicate herself full time to yoga. She paid Choudhury US$7,500 to attend a "gruelling" nine-week training course.
"Very early in training, Sarah Baughn noticed that Bikram Choudhury's relationship with young women yoga students was different," the suit says.
Young women were chosen to brush the pony-tailed guru's hair and give him massages, it alleges.
Choudhury insisted he had known Baughn in a past life, her suit alleges. In one class, Baughn alleges, Choudhury "pushed her down towards the floor after pulling her [legs] apart and opening her body", then pressed his body against her and "began whispering sexual things to her until she collapsed in sobs".