WARNING: Distressing content.

Hotter than the 40 degree rooms his faithful yoga followers sweat in is the heat of the spotlight on Bikram Choudhury right now - the man behind the international phenomenon of Bikram yoga.

For five decades, Choudhury reaped the benefits of his 26-pose yoga sequence, making millions of dollars and being adored by millions more.

But there's a dark underbelly to the world of Bikram yoga, something the practice's founder can no longer hide from.

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Bikram Choudhury, pictured in 2000, has fled the US and his once successful company has declared bankruptcy. Photo / Getty
Bikram Choudhury, pictured in 2000, has fled the US and his once successful company has declared bankruptcy. Photo / Getty

Facing millions in legal judgments from a number of women alleging everything from sexual harassment to wrongful dismissal, Choudhury and his company have declared bankruptcy.

The mounting pressure on Choudhury comes weeks after countless allegations of sexual misconduct, rape and sexual harassment are told throughout Hollywood, which started with producer Harvey Weinstein.

But for Bikram Choudhury, the sexual harassment is only the beginning.

THE BANKRUPTCY

Bikram Choudhury Yoga, the company started by the Indian yoga guru in the 1970s, declared bankruptcy on Friday after being dogged by US$16.7 million ($24m) in legal judgments.

The 70-year-old fled the US after a number of his yoga practitioners, students, instructors and teacher trainees alleged he had sexually assaulted them.

There has been a warrant out for his arrest since May ever since he failed to pay one of his former legal advisers Minakshi "Mikki" Jafa-Bodden.

In 2013, Jafa-Bodden was the head of his legal team when she was dismissed for refusing to bury rape allegations from one of his yoga students.

She sued the yoga guru for wrongful dismissal and sexual harassment, totalling US$8 million in damages.

Jafa-Bodden also alleged Choudhury regularly subjected her to vulgar sexual gestures and made offensive comments about women and minority groups.

"Bikram Choudhury created a hypersexualised, offensive and degrading environment for women by, among other things, demanding that female staffers brush his hair and give him massages," Jafa-Bodden said in her 2013 lawsuit.

He lost in January, 2016 but fled California shortly after, first heading to India and then Thailand and Japan.

Carla Minnard, a lawyer for Jafa-Bodden, said the last they knew he was teaching in Mexico.

Rajashree Choudhury, pictured leading a class in New Zealand, divorced her husband Bikram in 2015.
Rajashree Choudhury, pictured leading a class in New Zealand, divorced her husband Bikram in 2015.

"We will keep pursuing him however long it takes, wherever it takes," she told the AFP.

"I don't care where he goes, how much money it costs us, how many lawsuits we have to file, how many hundreds of hours we have to spend - we are going to collect on this judgment and see that Mikki gets justice."

Last week's bankruptcy filing listed his liabilities at $77 million meaning Jafa-Bodden probably won't ever be paid in full.

THE LAWSUITS

In 2015, Rajashree Choudhury announced she was ending their 31-year marriage after numerous women came forward alleging the yoga guru had sexually assaulted or raped them.

Six former students filed lawsuits against Choudhury accusing him of rape.

Choudhury would allegedly tell women, "God wants us to be together."

One former student, Canadian Jill Lawler, claims Choudhury told her: "If you don't have sex with me, I'll die," before raping her at a teacher training course in 2010.

Choudhury has always denied the allegations.

His teacher training courses can cost in excess of NZ$23,000.

In October last year, Choudhury sat down with journalist Andrea Kremer for the HBO show Real Sports to respond to the six separate lawsuits against him - and called his accusers "trash".

"Why I have to harass women? People spend $1 million for one drop of my sperm. I can make million dollars a day every drop. You are that idiot or dumb to believe those trash?" he told her.

"The women are the trash?" Kremer asked him.

"Yeah. I pick them from trash and give them life," he said.

Bikram Choudhury assisting a client at his yoga studio in Beverly Hills, California in 1982. Photo / Getty
Bikram Choudhury assisting a client at his yoga studio in Beverly Hills, California in 1982. Photo / Getty

Kremer also interviewed some of the women who alleged he raped them. Maggie Genthner was one of the women.

"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," she said.

The lawsuits also include payments for Sharon Clerkin, who is owed US$3.6m
after she sued claiming she was fired for becoming pregnant.

Petra Starke, who moved from her job as a lawyer in the Obama White House to chief executive of the Bikram yoga College of India in 2013, complained of wrongful dismissal, sexually inappropriate conduct and "racist tirades". She has a US$5.1m claim.

Last week's bankruptcy filing means there is a high chance none of these women will receive what they are owed.

FALL FROM GRACE

For five decades, Bikram Choudhury built an empire through his hot yoga.

Stifling studios that were heated to 40.5 degrees and the sweaty stretches people did there became a worldwide phenomenon.

In 2006, Choudhury sat down with The Guardian to speak about his lucrative yoga business from the worldwide headquarters in Beverly Hills.

Behind an ivory-clad desk and sitting on a chair covered in a tiger-striped towel he boasted about the amount of money his franchise was drawing.

"It's huge," he told the publication. "I'm making - I don't know - millions of dollars a day, $10 million a month - who knows how much?"

And while it might not of been $10 million a month, Choudhury was no doubt raking it in.

The yoga guru made millions off copyrighting his own version of yoga, a series of 26 poses in sauna-level temperatures that was supposed to be better than any other type of the exercise.

Choudhury, speaking at Riverside Church in New York in 2010. Once feted by celebrities, there is now a warrant out for Choudhury's arrest. Photo / Getty
Choudhury, speaking at Riverside Church in New York in 2010. Once feted by celebrities, there is now a warrant out for Choudhury's arrest. Photo / Getty

After suffering a debilitating gym injury at the age of 17, Choudhury was told by multiple doctors he'd never walk again.

Instead, he asked to be taken back to Bishnu Ghosh, a revered Indian yogi who had taught him since he was four living in Calcutta.

Six months later, Choudhury claims his time at Ghosh's College of Physical Education had completely healed his knee.

Choudhury later devised his own 26-pose sequence and two breathing exercises, perfected in the sweltering health of India.

Then, in the early 1970s, Choudhury decided to take his sequence, his self-dubbed Bikram yoga, to California - and it became an international phenomenon.

Choudhury became the yoga teacher to the stars, amassing a collection of famous devotees.

Lady Gaga, David Beckham, Jennifer Aniston and Beyonce were some of the few to preach the benefits of Bikram.

But like anything successful, other people in the world wanted their own piece, trying to open their own hot yoga studios, something that infuriated Choudhury.

In 2001, Choudhury managed to copyright his sequence - something that enraged much of the yoga community - making anyone wanting to open a studio teaching Bikram being forced to fork out thousands of dollars and continue paying the guru.

Choudhury instructs his yoga class as he stands on the hips of student Patrice Baal in Beverly Hills, California. It costs more than $20,000 to train as a Bikram yoga teacher. Photo / Getty
Choudhury instructs his yoga class as he stands on the hips of student Patrice Baal in Beverly Hills, California. It costs more than $20,000 to train as a Bikram yoga teacher. Photo / Getty

And it didn't stop there. The franchise would then have to pay a royalty of 5 per cent of total profits to Choudhury as well as a 2 per cent advertising fee.

DISTANCING THEMSELVES FROM BIKRAM

In 2015, an appeal court in California declared a series of yoga poses cannot be copyrighted considering the practice of yoga was invented 5000 years ago.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said at the time that while a particular expression of an idea can be copyrighted, the idea cannot.

At the time, non-profit Yoga Alliance called it a "positive resolution".

"On behalf of the entire yoga community, Yoga Alliance is proud to have been able to contribute to the positive resolution of this troubling issue. Yoga instructors can now put together a sequence of yoga poses without fear of infringing copyrights," said in a statement.

Bikram yoga studios have begun to distance themselves from the brand, once lauded as the Starbucks of yoga.

A number of yoga studio are now better known as hot yoga, rather than Bikram.

One yoga studio in the US state of Georgia, previously called Bikram yoga Decatur, completely rebranded and called themselves Still Hot Yoga.

The studio's owner Eric Jennings released a statement at the time explaining why they chose to rebrand.

"Since early 2013 there have been six lawsuits filed against Bikram Choudhury and Bikram yoga, Inc, which contain very different, and disturbing, accusations, including sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and rape.

"We ended our legal affiliation with Bikram yoga, Inc. in March 2013, just weeks after learning of the first of these lawsuits and at the same time we stopped referring people to the Bikram yoga Teacher Training program," it added.

Bikram Choudhury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.