Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Bikram style of yoga practiced in sweltering heat, has been a controversial figure for years—but there are now six civil lawsuits that accuse him of rape or assault, the most recent one filed earlier this month, and his yoga empire is divided as a result. Sarah Baughn filed the first complaint two years ago, her allegations of sexual harassment and assault at 2005 training classes hitting the Bikram world "like an earthquake," as the New York Times puts it. But more followed, causing some formerly devoted followers to ditch their guru while others "have blinders on" and remain loyal, says Baughn, now 29. Some studio owners have gotten rid of the name "Bikram," but simultaneously, new Bikram studios have continued to open.
Baughn's case goes to trial in August. Another case involving a former student who says Choudhury raped her during a 2010 teacher-training will be allowed to move forward, after an LA judge this month cleared challenges from Choudhury's lawyers. And on Feb. 13, Canadian Jill Lawler filed a lawsuit also accusing Choudhury of rape at a 2010 teacher-training. She was 18 at the time, and says that Choudhury praised her during the training in Las Vegas, and that he first started groping her while she massaged him for hours. Afraid to say anything and feeling she had to complete the course, she says she continued on after an apology from Choudhury, but weeks later, Choudhury allegedly sexually assaulted her in his hotel room—and multiple times thereafter, up until February 2013, the lawsuit says. Choudhury denies all allegations.