If you caught the Bikram Choudhury segment on last Tuesday night’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, we’re very sorry. Because perhaps you went through the same roller coaster of emotions we did sitting through the 20 minutes that felt more like a year, stuck in 105 degree heat, with no water and no exit. Real Sports Correspondent Andrea Kremer set out to India to interview Choudhury, and in the process gave us a peek into his infamous yoga teacher training, which is, yes, everything you’ve ever heard it to be: grueling, strenuous, exhausting, degrading, staggeringly expensive (it’s $12,000). Tales of sleep deprivation, shouting, name-calling, ridicule over weight, size or ability, and encouraged guru adolation all check out. How could this man sustain such methods? How can people still fawn over him and be drawn to his violent language and teaching style? We still wonder.
But this isn’t news. Interspersed with a brief insider’s look into Bikram Yoga trainings, we also got to hear from three women—Sarah Baughn, Jill Lawler, and Maggie Genthner—all of whom have filed lawsuits against the wealthy yoga giant for sexual harassment and rape. (There have been six separate suits filed so far.) Each of these women share their stories of how the yoga practice had a transformative impact on their lives, how they were drawn to teach it, and how it all went sharply downhill once they were recruited for Choudhury’s personal pleasure. Each of their stories is gut-wrenching and deeply disturbing. If you’ve already read some of the lawsuits filed against Choudhury over the past few years, you might have been less shocked by the interviews. But hearing these women speak, seeing them share their painful stories through tears and explain the spiraling effect each of their experiences had on their lives since, struck us on another level of sad, sickening and viscerally infuriating.
Add Choudhury’s vehement denial and crude response and matters turn even more stomach-churning. Put it this way, if you had your thoughts about Bikram, the person, and they are unfavorable, this interview did not nothing to improve them. In fact, you may have ended up feeling even worse. In short, Bikram Choudhury’s way of speaking is like Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” if the locker room was the yoga studio, or…everywhere else, and it was packed with even more unhinged hyperbole and vulgarity.
Choudhury has not yet been convicted of any of these charges yet (one trial is set for January), but whether he is or not, his language speaks for itself, and what we hear is rape culture and abuse of power exist everywhere and are alive and well in yoga.
Here are some of the most disturbing quotes from the Real Sports interview:
On Bikram Yoga and Choudhury’s methods:
Bikram Choudhury: “This yoga worse than cocaine. Because you can get rid of cocaine, but once you used to this yoga, you can’t stop. Because nothing in this world makes you feel better than this yoga.”
Bikram Choudhury: “I try to kill them. They don’t die. I own– I torture them.”
HBO’s Andrea Kremer: “And you have to do that? You have to torture them?”
Bikram Choudhury: “I love it.”
Andrea Kremer: “What are some of the rules that you have?”
Bikram Choudhury: “Number one: You have to forget who you are.”
Andrea Kremer: “You’ve even said something along the lines of, ‘I implant my mind in your brain.’”
Bikram Choudhury: “Yes. My way or highway. You don’t like it? Get the fuck out of here.”
Andrea Kremer: “You can be pretty harsh. You never have any regrets about any of the things that you say?”
Bikram Choudhury: “Of course not. Why should I? I have to yell, scream, shout. ‘You fat ass. What the fuck’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you? You don’t listen to me. You dumb– you dumb fuck.’ Because she doesn’t listen.”
On Bikram Yoga’s near-miraculous powers:
Bikram Choudhury: “I cure Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, cancer. Doctor knows very little about human body.”
Andrea Kremer: “You know more than doctors?”
Bikram Choudhury: “Million times, billion times. I teach doctors. I don’t go to doctors. Every doctor in the world, they come to me.”
Alleged rape victims speak:
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.”
You can watch the trailer for an idea of Bikram’s denial and defensive response. In summary, he called his accusers liars and “trash” and proceeded to have an expletive-laden meltdown, ending the interview early.
Until now, we’ve only had CNN’s interview from 2015 where Choudhury said he felt “sorry” for his accusers. (There was also ABC Nightline from 2013 where he was questioned about calling students bitches and whores.) We’re glad there is at least some media coverage of this deeply disturbing and ongoing situation, because it’s all too easy to sweep it under the musty sweat-soaked rug. For these women who claim they were raped, and for the women who remain vulnerable to such attacks, that is unacceptable.
We invite you to have an open and respectful dialogue in the comments.
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (episode 235) is now available for streaming on HBO Now and HBO Go.
Here are the bonus clips. Lowlights: Bikram says at one point he was the richest human being in the world, of all time. He says his guru buried him 10 feet underground for 7 days…hundreds of times. The three women struggle to practice yoga at all now without getting upset or feeling sick. Bikram is seen as a sexual predator and criminal charges are looming for the rape suits, though we don’t yet know if that will ever happen.