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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Yoga guru's star power
Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Choudhury was originally a weightlifter

Bikram Choudhury has forged a multimillion dollar business teaching yoga to a galaxy of stars from his base in Los Angeles as well as heading a chain of studios across the US.

The 22-carat smile is California, the white slip-on shoes are California, and the dazzlingly bejewelled watch is most certainly California.

But Bikram Choudhury insists the secret of his success is that he is "selling India to the West".

The well-toned guru says his celebrity clientele includes both Hollywood old and new.

I kept going to his home otherwise he would be dead

Bikram Choudhury on Charlie Sheen
Young Turks like Ashley Judd mix with veterans like Susan Sarandon. And self-improvement enthusiasts like Madonna have needless to say passed through the doors at his HQ on La Cienega Boulevard.

Celebrities mingle with businessmen and even ordinary people, while future presidents walk in alongside actors, like Jeff Bridges and Martin Sheen, who have played presidents.

Once inside they face Bikram's tutors and occasionally the man himself in temperatures of up to 37C.

Yoga magazines have described his hatha technique as "torture", dubbing him the "bad boy" of the discipline and raising eyebrows at his mansions and fleet of Rolls-Royces.

Drugs problem

Many stars are only looking for the spiritual equivalent of an oil change, but some of Hollywood's hellraisers have come to see the guru as near write-offs.

Mr Choudhury saw Robert Downey Jr but says the Ally McBeal star would have been able to beat his drugs problem more easily if he had stuck with hatha yoga.

He admits: "I did pretty good but he didn't continue. If he now continue, I make him perfect."

Madonna
The guru lists Madonna among his stellar clients
And Mr Choudhury is happy to claim a success in his private ministrations to Charlie Sheen, having already taught the troubled star's father Martin.

"[Charlie] was not capable to drive. I kept going to his home otherwise he would be dead."

He explains his appeal to celebrities: "I treat everybody equally. I expect the truth, I don't care who they are and I speak the truth.

"All the stars like me [because] I don't treat them as stars. Half of Hollywood comes.

"As soon as I see them I can tell what problems they have."

Mexican client

Mr Choudhury insists he is not starstruck by the procession of A-listers who tramp into his studio-cum-sauna.

"I don't recognise some of them. I don't remember."

He says an attractive Mexican client later turned out to be Salma Hayek.

She broke her spine in two pieces. I fixed it

Bikram Choudhury on dancer Juliet Prowse
After teaching "hundreds of thousands" of people over the years, Mr Choudhury is happy to blow his (probably gold-plated) trumpet.

"Their life stops, nothing works. Either physically, spiritually, married life, sex. When life stops, you are in a corner, the last word is Bikram. Then they are reborn.

"Shirley MacLaine [has come to me] for 42 years from 1960 when she came to Bombay."

And the guru says he was able to extend NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career for a full seven seasons through his yoga.

Illness claims

He compares some of the stars' problems to trying to "start a Cadillac with a Toyota key".

And he claims credit for staving off the effects of cancer and other illnesses.

He regards actress and dancer Juliet Prowse - who died from pancreatic cancer in 1996 - as one of his most productive pupils.

"She broke her spine in two pieces. I fixed it."

See also:

17 Jun 02 | Entertainment
16 Nov 01 | Entertainment
30 May 02 | England
27 Oct 01 | Health
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