For more than three decades they were yoga’s power couple. He was a popular but eccentric guru responsible for leading the "hot yoga" movement in the United States in his trademark black speedo and Rolex watch. She was his quiet, more soft-spoken counterpart — 19 years his junior — devoted to charity work and the family’s thriving Bikram yoga practice.
But after more than 30 years together and amid accusations that Bikram Choudhury had sexually assaulted some of his young female students, Rajashree Choudhury filed for divorce from the yoga giant in late 2015 citing “irreconcilable differences,” according to The Telegraph.
Bikram’s meteoric rise to fame in the United States that earned him attention from celebrities and would-be instructors willing to pay $10,000 to attend his sought-after teacher training classes has been chronicled in the new Netflix documentary “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.”
But while the documentary focused on Bikram’s larger-than-life persona and the sexual assault allegations and lawsuits that would eventually lead to his downfall in the United States, it spent little time on his marriage or family life.
The dynamic between the couple, before and after they split, remains somewhat of a mystery even now.
It is known that the pair met at a yoga competition in Kolkata, an Indian city formerly known as Calcutta in the country's state of West Bengal.
“I met my husband when I was balancing my body on swords — one of the acts as part of the competition,” Rajashree once said, according to The Telegraph.
She was a young yoga champion, ultimately winning the All-India Yoga Championship five times between 1979 and 1983 before she married Bikram in 1984 at the age of 19.
Rajashree was an instrumental part of the Bikram hot yoga movement and was named vice president of Bikram yoga 10 years after they married. In 1994, the pair co-founded the Bikram Yoga’s Teacher Training Program, which quickly became a success financially and culturally as the hot yoga movement gained momentum across the country.
“Bikram would hold these trainings in various hotels around the world,” the guru's former head of legal affairs Micki Jafa-Bodden said in the Netflix documentary. “I’ve seen rooms with up to 500 people in them and the tuition was around $10,000. That’s what keeps Bikram in his fedoras, and leather jackets, python shoes, Bentleys and Ferraris.”
While Bikram was known for his eccentric personality and tough love approach — openly mocking students for their weight during class, swearing or telling students they needed a pedicure — his wife took a much more gentle approach to teaching, often said to be soft-spoken and polite during her instruction.
She is also well known for her charity work and has supported efforts such as Uprising Yoga, a program to help incarcerated youth and Team Red White and Blue, a program that helps veterans through yoga, according to her website.
But after years of success, Bikram found himself under scrutiny, with several female students coming forward with claims that he had sexually assaulted them.
Former yoga instructor Sarah Baughn alleged in 2014 that she had been sexually assaulted in Choudhury’s hotel room after a group movie night. As she tried to leave the room, Choudhury pushed his penis up against her and began to kiss her neck and chest, she said in the documentary.
“He just kept saying ‘I am going to have you this time,’” she said, but she was able to break free and leave the hotel room. Baughn was one of six former students to make similar claims, CNN reported in 2015.
Former student Larissa Anderson even said in the Netflix documentary that she was raped in Bikram’s home while his wife and two children were asleep upstairs.
Bikram has publicly denied the allegations throughout the years.
"Women like me. Women love me," he told CNN in 2015. "So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don't have to assault the women."
He continued to maintain his innocence through a spokesperson after the Netflix documentary aired as well.
Both Anderson and Baughn eventually settled lawsuits they'd filed against the yoga guru for the alleged abuse, but it was former head of legal affairs Jafa-Bodden who would earn a settlement against him for somewhere around $6.5 million.
She claimed that after the allegations began to surface, she tried to investigate them but was soon fired after being the victim of sexual harassment herself.
She filed a lawsuit against Bikram for gender discrimination, wrongful termination and sexual harassment and he was ordered to pay nearly $6.5 million, according to Esquire.
Jafa-Bodden recalled in the documentary that before she was fired from her job, she had taken her concerns to Rajashree.
“I told his wife that I thought the time had come when Bikram needed to be removed from power. He was just untenable, having him at the helm of Bikram yoga and she basically said to me, ‘Be careful. Think about your daughter. Don’t rock the boat. Let him have his girls.’ And it was a few days after I got ruthlessly and mercilessly called into his room and told unless I resign right there and then bad things were going to happen to me,” she said.
Rajashree declined to participate in the documentary herself and director Eva Orner told The Guardian she believes Rajashree was “very complicit.”
Oxygen.com reached out to Rajashree for comment and has not head back.
The documentary also raises speculation that Rajashree’s decision to file for divorce was more of a strategic move to shield her husband’s assets.
“His wife filed what we believe to be a sham divorce where all the assets that he had went into his wife Rajashree’s name to shield him from the verdict,” trial attorney Mark Quigley said.
But a year before she ever filed for divorce, Rajashree said in an interview that the pair did not often spend much time together.
“On an average, we were together 10 days a month at our Beverly Hills residence and our headquarters,” she said according to The Telegraph.
Bikram also broke down in tears in his 2015 interview with CNN when discussing what the allegations against him had done to his marriage.
“My wife never look at me anymore,” he said. “My children, my wife … we only die once in our life. I’m dying every day when I get up in the morning.”
Rajashree has not said much publicly about her decision to end the couple’s 31-year union, but did allude to the demise of her marriage just days after filing for divorce in 2015 while working at a charity event.
“Bikram put [a] challenge in front of me, and to overcome that challenge, that’s my education from him,” she said according to The Telegraph. “People can think whatever they think, but that’s my strength to go forward.”
After the court awarded Jafa-Bodden the large settlement, Bikram soon fled the country.
In 2016 it was rumored he was planning to return to India to continue teaching, India West reported at this time.
But Rajashree remained in the United States at their residence in Beverly Hills. On her birthday in May of 2016 she wrote about her “next chapter” in a post on Facebook, according to the news outlet.
“I am working to move on with my life, in the midst of challenges,” she said in the post. “As I move forward with this next chapter of my life, I hope you will keep me in your thoughts and prayers.”
In the years since Bikram fled the U.S. the 75-year-old continues to travel to other parts of the world, hosting yoga classes and events. In the early part of next year, he’s planning “Bikram’s Legacy Tour of India 2020” a tour of seven cities offering “hot yoga classes, worships and training,” according to Esquire.
Rajashree—a mother to an adult son and daughter—continues to live and work in the United States, teaching yoga classes and workshops.
“Rajashree believes that introducing yoga at an early age helps ameliorate and avoid problems that arise as one journeys through life,” her website reads. “With a special focus on the emotional side of yoga, she advocates yoga's impact on not only physical health, but also the mind, body, and soul.”
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