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Bikram Yoga Founder Accused of Rape in Two Lawsuits

Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, has been accused of raping two students, according to lawsuits filed this month in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, has been accused of raping two students, according to lawsuits filed this month.

The separate lawsuits were filed May 6 and 7 in Los Angeles Superior Court against Choudhury and Bikram's Yoga College of India by women known as Jane Doe in the complaints, according to a report by Courthouse News Service. The women allege sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment and seven other counts, according to the report.

Last March, another former student, Sarah Baughn, filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment, but not rape, against Choudhury. Baughn claimed he made sexual advances to her in 2005 while she was training to be a teacher.

Jane Doe No. 1 claimed she was raped twice by Choudhury in the fall of 2011. Jane Doe No. 2 claimed Choudhury raped her in November 2010 as she was training to become a teacher in Choudhury's Bikram Yoga studio in San Diego.

Jane Doe No. 2 says in the complaint that other people in Choudhury's inner circle, identified in the lawsuit as defendants 1-25, were aware of Choudhury's "pattern and practice of causing, inducing or persuading young women to enroll in teacher training classes to become yoga instructors only so he can sexually assault and/or rape them" and that the defendants "did nothing to prevent this from happening to [the] plaintiff or to protect her."

Choudhury and his company have not immediately responded to a request seeking comment. Bikram's Yoga College of India President Petra Starke declined comment to the U.K.'s Guardian. In March, after the Baughn lawsuit was filed, Starke said in a press release that Choudhury is "disappointed by the false charges made in this lawsuit" and said that he would not comment about the case.

"Bikram expresses gratitude to all who have reached out to express their love and support," Starke said.

Mary Shea Hagebols of Shea Law Offices in Oakland, CA, represents all three women in the lawsuits. Hagebols told the Guardian: "I have worked with the victims of sexual assault for decades. It is very difficult for someone to come forward and speak out against someone powerful and wealthy."

The USA Yoga Federation, for which Choudhury's wife, Rajashree Choudhury, is the founder and president, released this statement to Club Industry on how the lawsuits relate to the yoga community:

"The mission of the USA Yoga Federation is to build awareness and gain wider acceptance of yoga as a competitive sport and as a healthy fitness activity that is available within all forms of yoga. To accomplish these goals, we seek to unite and welcome all types and styles of yoga under the single banner of the USA Yoga Federation. However, when problems occur in any type or style of yoga, or with founders or advocates of those forms of yoga, it is not our place to judge or criticize either the individuals involved or their yoga practices. That is especially true when matters are before the courts. No matter what philosophical differences exist or how disruptive the problems may be, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from continuously striving to achieve the goals of bringing improved health and wellness to millions of people across America through yoga."

Bikram Yoga, also referred to as hot yoga, consists of the same 26 postures and two breathing exercises and is usually practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees. There are about 650 Bikram Yoga studios around the world.

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