In 2005, the group sued Bikram for sending its members cease-and-desist letters, only to lose the case. Though the settlement remains confidential, California U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton granted Bikram a summary judgment, agreeing that OSYU had violated his copyright. (OSYU declined comment for this story).

Gumucio was invited to join OSYU, but passed. His life had once again taken a new turn.

When his girlfriend got a job in New York, he sold his Seattle studios and followed her east to start a family. He also severed his relationship with Bikram.

Bikram Choudhury
Courtesy of Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Choudhury

Gumucio removed himself from the yoga world until 2006, when he rented a small space in Manhattan and began teaching a donation-based class each Sunday. His role model at the time was Bryan Kest, who'd launched donation-based power yoga studios in Santa Monica and believes in making yoga accessible to everyone.

Gumucio's first class had just 10 students. By the third Sunday, so many people showed up they all couldn't fit in one room.

Yoga to the People was born. Over the next six years, Gumucio opened five studios in New York, and expanded to Seattle, San Francisco, and Berkeley.

"Yoga studios make pretty damn good money," says Gumucio. "What I did with the $8 yoga, you just get more people . . . So it's math. The price point is lower so we get a bigger volume."

But it wasn't just price that allowed Gumucio to gain so much ground on his mentor. If Bikram's theory was based on rigidity and obedience to an ultimate authority figure, Gumucio took the opposite approach, branding his studios with an everyman's populism.

Gumucio's mission statement: "There will be no right answers. No glorified teachers. No ego, no script, no pedestals. No, 'You're not good enough or rich enough.' This yoga is for everyone."

"Yogis can be very elitist and give you attitude at the front desk when you walk in," says Ted Caine, who has taught at YTTP for four years. "I hate that, the 'we are better people because we do yoga.' I think that's dumb."

Yet while philosophy remains the outer crust of the dispute between Bikram and Gumucio, at heart it's a battle over money. Lot and lots of money. The industry is growing so fast that it's expected to reach $8.3 billion in sales by 2016.

With that much at stake, it was only a matter of time until the lawyers showed up.


Practitioners describe hot yoga as if it were as powerful — and addictive — as any drug. First-timers enter a studio with empty stomachs (if they are smart), but nothing prepares them for the wave of 105-degree heat that refuses to subside.

Anxiety begins to gather in their chests well before the first water break at the 20-minute mark. By the sixth of 26 poses — as they try to balance on one leg while pulling the other leg into a standing split — black spots start to pop before their eyes. At the end of the class, students are left flat on their backs catching their breath, hair matted, and clothes soaked.

Outsiders might consider it a torture only a fool would choose to endure. But for true believers, something euphoric is delivered: They feel amazing.

Yet the Bikram-Gumucio feud has caused a nationwide divide, slicing the country's yoga practitioners into two schools of thought. Much like warring religious sects, they practice nearly the exact same form of yoga, but speak slightly different dialects. In the end, it's not a battle over questions great and eternal, but over the interests of two charismatic leaders whose followers are forced to choose sides.

For many Bikram students, there is a sense of profound respect and admiration for their yogi. And they invoke the yoga code: the belief that followers must respect the lineage and leader of the specific style of yoga they practice. Without properly trained teachers, students won't get the proper benefits. And if the Bikram method is allowed to be diluted, a great tradition will be lost.

"I just know I wouldn't be able to do that," Tricia Donegan says of Gumucio's discount studios. She owns a Bikram studio in New York and is best known as Lady Gaga's instructor.

"I wouldn't be able to pay the teacher the standard I want, pay for the heat system, the amenities, the shower, the space, the rent — keeping it the way it should be so the studio is not completely packed and crowded . . . If he makes it more affordable to people who can't afford it, I am all for that. If it starts to bring down the value of a yoga studio . . . then I think it becomes a problem."

To Donegan, this isn't a fight over money or market supremacy. It's a moral fray, a clear contest between right and wrong.

"He's not a businessman," she says of Bikram. "He's a terrible businessman. He's not copyrighting to make money. He just wants everyone to do his product the right way, because it is the right way."

This is the legacy Bikram hoped to protect by suing Gumucio. But as he has brought his foe's business practices into the limelight, his own are being scrutinized more than ever. For the past nine months, the validity of Bikram's copyright has been called into question repeatedly, most recently by the U.S. Copyright Office itself.

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5 comments
babosoff30
babosoff30

The whole point about yoga is, to remove your ego from yourself .I used to teach yoga and got fed up with the whole thing when I saw other yoga teachers letting  their egos get in the way of teaching. Yoga is over 5,000 years old and why does he think he can put a copyright on  yoga poses? 

It's not about making money either and I was always taught by my yoga teachers  to share my knowledge of yoga with others and I did with anyone who wanted to learn it. It sickens me when I see how greedy people are with teaching yoga I hope people who read about  Choudhury and his Birkram hot yoga think twice about giving him anymore of their money. He's into making large amounts of money for himself and his empire. This is NOT what yoga was EVER about!

 

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Mark
Mark

I have good name for Bikram and all types of hot yoga. I call it "not yoga", because it is simply NOT yoga. Anybody who has does a serious study of Yoga can tell you that Bikram is an exercise only, and a stupid one at that. You don't need a dangerously hot room to do yoga. And Bikram the person is not a yogi; he is just a sadistic asshole and an over-glorified aerobics instructor. No yogi in their right mind would sue somebody for "stealing their moves".

Anonymous
Anonymous

Stupid headline. There's no tradition with Bikram. It's a pop fad version of traditional yoga.

Mummer62
Mummer62

I did Bikram in Phoenix for a year. It's hard, sweaty and expensive. Yes, it does work if you're commited but you know what? So does "traditional" yoga work too. Bikram has become just another rich, Hollywood egomanial asshole. It's ironic because his egomania is so against most yoga precepts. I really hope he loses this lawsuit.

Marcy
Marcy

Just another cult complete with the required adulation of the cult leader.

 
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