Jill Lawler

Jill Lawler

White Rock yoga studio steps back from Bikram

A White Rock hot-yoga studio is distancing itself from a well-know guru, in support of a former instructor.

A White Rock yoga studio that teaches the 26-posture hot-yoga sequence developed by Bikram Choudhury is distancing itself from the well-known guru, in light of allegations of sexual assault.

Studio owner Jai Braithwaite said a name change to Nourish Hot Yoga from Bikram Yoga White Rock, is also to support one of their former teachers, who last month filed a civil suit against Choudhury.

“I want people to know we’re changing our name because of this,” Braithwaite told Peace Arch News.

The allegations against Choudhury have not been proven in court, but Braithwaite said he has “heard enough” to feel the name-change decision is the right thing to do.

“I’ve now heard it from someone we know and is very dear to us,” he said.

Jill Lawler, who now lives in Vancouver, quit Braithwaite’s studio last July. She filed her claim against Choudhury in California Superior Court last month, reportedly becoming the sixth person to go public with allegations against the guru since 2013.

Choudhury did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

On the Bikram Yoga website, a press release posted in March 2013 and signed by the president of Bikram’s Yoga College of India LP described allegations at that time as false.

“Bikram Choudhury has spent over 50 years bringing the benefits of Bikram Yoga to people through his teaching and the creation of his worldwide Bikram hot yoga organization,” writes Petra Starke.

“He is disappointed by the false charges made in this lawsuit. However, the matter is in the hands of his attorneys, and he will not comment at this time.”

Lawler declined to be interviewed, but gave PAN permission to publish her name and photograph in connection with the latest allegations.

Braithwaite said he only learned about them when news of Lawler’s civil claim became public in late February.

Shortly after, he received a message on Facebook from a different woman with whom he’d taken Choudhury’s training in the fall of 2010. She identified herself as one of two “Jane Does” who had filed similar suits, he said.

Lawler’s claim relates to incidents that allegedly began in 2010, when she was at a teacher-training course in Las Vegas. She was 18 at the time.

Braithwaite said his employee stopped teaching – and practising – yoga last July. But he saw “a glimmer of hope” in her when she returned to his studio for the first time last week. She helped remove the name ‘Bikram’ from the exterior of the 1326 Johnston Rd. studio, then returned Thursday to take a class, he said.

Lawler had “a spring in her step and a bounce in her smile that we hadn’t seen in quite a while,” he said. “She kind of hinted today that she might get back up and teach again.”

Braithwaite said word of the allegations has prompted lots of questions to the studio, as well as a decline in attendance.

While he’s removing the ‘Bikram’ title – thereby eliminating an obligation to use teachers who paid to be certified by Choudhury – Braithwaite said the studio will continue to offer a ‘Bikram-method’ class.

“We’ll continue to teach it,” he said, lauding the benefits of the hot-yoga practice.