LOS ANGELES — Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury is being sued by a woman who alleges he pushed her into having sex with him when she was 18 years old and learning to be a teacher of his craft in 2012-14.
Jill Lawler’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges sexual assault and battery. She’s seeking unspecified damages in the suit filed Thursday.
A representative for Choudhury could not be immediately reached for comment.
Before she started learning to become a Bikram Yoga teacher, Lawler took her first class at age 17, according to her court papers. “Jill Lawler remembers being hooked on Bikram Yoga from day one and almost immediately fell in love with yoga,” the suit says.
Lawler dropped out of college the next year to become a Bikram teacher, as she “felt that Bikram Yoga was her calling and that her purpose was to share it with as many people as possible,” her complaint says.
The training classes were demanding, according to the lawsuit. “Unbeknownst to plaintiff, Choudhury referred to them as ‘one big brainwashing session,”‘ the suit says. “Jill had left everything and everyone she cared about behind: her college studies, her family, a boyfriend whom she loved, all so that she could spend what had been her college fund on becoming a certified Bikram instructor.”
Over time, Choudhury became sexually aggressive toward Lawler, despite her objections that she had a boyfriend she hoped to marry one day, according to her court papers, which allege that Choudhury told her, “If you don’t have sex with me, I will die.”
Choudhury eventually overcame her resistance, the suit states. “He had complete financial control over her and was stronger than her,” according to her court papers, which allege Choudhury “continued to demand sex from Jill as a price for remaining within the Bikram family.”
In July 2014, suffering from crippling depression and other psychological harm, Lawler taught her last Bikram Yoga class and took a steep pay cut to work as a waitress and stay away from Choudhury and his followers, the suit says.