Sarah Baughn, a young mother in San Francisco, feels haunted by what she says happened to her. So much so she says she can barely bring herself to do the thing she loves most. Practicing yoga.
“My daughter one day looked at me, she was almost three, and she said to me, ‘Mommy, I wanna be just like you. I wanna be a yoga teacher,’” said Baughn. “And all I could think was, ‘You can't do that. You'll get raped.’"
This is the man she accuses of assaulting her: Bikram Choudhury. He’s arguably the richest, most successful yoga guru in the world. In the yoga world, he's a rock star. Known by just one name. Bikram.
His brand of hot yoga is synonymous with sweat. And Bikram claims it can transform your body, extend your life and even invigorate your sex life.
“The hardest problem in my life is staying away from women,” said Bikram in an interview with Nightline. “Women like me and I have to run, city after city, country after country all my life to stay away from the women. Yes, that's my No. 1 problem all my life.”
That was a year and a half ago, when Nightline started reporting on Bikram. Already then there were rumors about inappropriate contact with students. But since then, five women have filed civil lawsuits accusing Bikram of sexual assault. Four of the women accuse him of rape. Baughn was the first to come forward.
“He absolutely chases women, he victimizes women,” said Baughn. “And someone can look him in the eye and say ‘no’ and it doesn't matter.”
She was 20 when she dropped out of college to attend Bikram's teacher training program. The grueling nine-week seminar, led by Bikram himself, costs thousands of dollars and is the only way to become a Bikram yoga teacher. Meeting Bikram for the first time, Baughn says she was full of hope. She told him yoga had changed her life.
She says Bikram took an immediate interest. Later, she says, Bikram told her privately that they should start a relationship. Shaken and upset, she says she rebuffed him and reported the incident to a teacher training staffer. But she says Bikram persisted with unwanted advances during classes.
To outsiders, the training can seem unorthodox. Students almost naked and dripping with sweat are cheered on by Bikram's sexually charged banter. The women Nightline spoke to all say after the yoga the students all watch Bollywood movies together into the wee hours of the morning. And some of the students massage Bikram.
Larissa Anderson says she was part of Bikram's inner circle, one of a select few teachers to become part of Bikram's entourage.
“The young women who want to believe in something so badly, he sees it,” said Anderson. “And those are the people that he targets because they're vulnerable.”
Anderson says she was vulnerable when she came to Bikram. Recovering from drug addiction, yoga, she says, was her path to a healthier life. She says all that changed late one night at Bikram's Beverly Hills mansion.
“He raped me,” said Anderson.
Choudhury and his legal team declined to be interviewed for this story.
But his legal team provided ABC News with a statement. It said, in part, they “strongly dispute the allegations and intend to vindicate themselves in court,” adding “they do not intend to try this case in the media.”
The district attorney has declined to bring any criminal charges against Bikram. All of the current cases are in civil court.