Bikram Choudhury: L.A. Accuses Yoga Guru of Safety Violations [Excerpts]
Officials target Bikram Choudhury's studio. The magnate accuses the city of harassing him.
Over the last 20 years, controversial Los Angeles yoga magnate Bikram Choudhury has turned his signature brand of "hot" yoga into a worldwide, multimillion-dollar industry.
But it was Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo who turned up the heat Thursday, charging the popular yogi with 10 criminal safety violations at his La Cienega Boulevard studio.
Delgadillo said Choudhury repeatedly flouted notices from the city's fire and building and safety departments that his converted warehouse studio had insufficient fire exits for the number of its students.
Inspectors in April found 160 people squeezed into a space with a maximum capacity of 49, said Deputy City Atty. Eric Rosenblatt, who is handling the case.
Choudhury, in a phone interview from Bangkok, Thailand, where he is opening a studio, said he was the victim of a five-year campaign of harassment by employees of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. He also said that he had had it with Los Angeles and was moving the world headquarters of his Yoga College of India to Honolulu.
"Thanks a lot, L.A.," he said. "I've made up my mind."
Choudhury said his system, Bikram yoga, consists of a sequence of 26 postures, repeated twice, performed in a studio heated to between 100 and 105 degrees. Choudhury told The Times in 2002 that the heat helped him work his students' bodies "like a blacksmith."
Dubbed "Yoga's Bad Boy" by Yoga Journal, he has upset traditionalists with his aggressive business tactics and brash behavior. Choudhury pioneered what was believed to be the first yoga franchising operation in the world, charging fees to operators of the hundreds of yoga studios on five continents that operate under his name and teach his practice.
Choudhury also charges candidates to teach Bikram yoga $6,000 for a two-month training course, plus an optional $2,100 in transportation and housing fees.
He made headlines last year in a legal fight over his claim of a copyright on his yoga poses. Choudhury had tried to prevent others from teaching his style of yoga; he said he was protecting the purity of his discipline. The dispute was ultimately settled.
(Andrew Blankenstein, Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2006).