The Hot Yoga War

Two yogis battle over the fate of a tradition (and a pile of money)

In a large Chinese banquet hall in Boston hung with open-mouthed dragons and bulbous red lanterns, the hot yogis have taken over. Seventy Bikram yoga teachers are sprawled between the tables. At the helm of it all, clad in a black silk suit, a rhinestone tie, and a diamond-encrusted Rolex, is one of the world’s most famous yoga instructors, Bikram Choudhury.

The small, svelte man from Calcutta runs his hands anxiously through thin, wiry hair that falls past his shoulders from a mostly bare crown. Despite his diminutive looks, his presence clearly commands the room. Heads flick in his direction from other tables, eager for proximity to—and attention from—the man they consider to be their personal guru.

Everyone here practices the Bikram method of yoga, a series of 26 postures and two breathing sequences performed for 90 minutes in a climate-controlled environment of 105 degrees. It’s the only correct way to practice yoga, Bikram insists. Everything else is “shit.”

I have been granted the seat of honor beside him. While everyone else is discussing yoga, we are talking about one of the ugliest lawsuits to occur in this otherwise tranquil world.

“I am going to go to trial to get him punishment, to make him an example, so no one will ever have the guts to do that same kind of shit,” says Bikram, a man so synonymous with yoga that people are often surprised to learn he is still living and not just a mythical icon.

In September, he sued Greg Gumucio, his former student and right hand man, for copyright infringement. Gumucio once occupied the chair where I now sit. But for the past several years, he has distanced himself from his former mentor, starting his own chain of competing studios, Yoga to the People.

Since 2006, Gumucio has been growing a strong business on the coasts. He charges only $8 for a single class, while a standard Bikram class costs between $15 and $25. The result has been a billowing client roster. A total of nearly 1,000 students pass through Gumucio’s four New York City studios every day.

Bikram originally turned a blind eye to Gumucio’s hotter hot yoga until last September, when a Bikram studio in Manhattan was forced to close due to competition from two YTTP studios thriving nearby. That’s when Bikram decided to sue Gumucio for copyright and trademark infringement, unfair business practices, and breach of contract.

Although yoga is a centuries-old tradition, Bikram had copyrighted his particular version under the same protections afforded to choreographers. And he had used it to bat down competitors from practicing it without paying franchise fees.

But Gumucio proved the greatest threat to his multimillion-dollar empire.

Bikram’s lawsuit asserts that Gumucio not only stole his intellectual property, but also jeopardized the success of other Bikram studios. When placed head to head, his studios struggle to compete with Gumucio’s discount pricing and populist practices. And because YTTP teachers are trained by Gumucio, Bikram contends that the entire field has been cheapened by the selling of a lesser product, the same way Chinese knockoffs damage the reputation of Louis Vuitton purses.

For Bikram, a man who believes he saves lives through his yoga, any alteration to his method not only devalues his product, but also defiles his legacy. He sees his life’s work on grand terms, and having his business undermined by his former protégé isn’t just a legal battle, but also a moral one.

“I always forgave my students, like Jesus,” he says. “But I reached a point where I have to protect my regular legal schools.”

The Making of an Empire

Bikram moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s. His first book, published in 1978, preached that his hot yoga sessions could heal everything from knee injuries to obesity and arthritis. Through the years, he appeared on programs like The Tonight Show and 60 Minutes. His message remained the same: Kill yourself for 90 minutes a day, and he would single-handedly transform your life.

In health-crazed Hollywood, this small man from Calcutta seemed to have the key to the fountain of youth. In the next four decades, his clients would include three presidents—Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton—in addition to George Harrison, Charlie Sheen, Prince Harry, and Jennifer Aniston.

Lady Gaga listens to me,” he boasted to a Boston audience this summer. “Her mantra is only one word—Bikram—because Bikram makes her what she is today. It works.”

Today, his success has earned him celebrity and the wealth to match. He lives in the Hollywood Hills with his collection of Rolls-Royces and earns an estimated $7 million annually.

“I kind of run this city,” he says. “They depend on me.”

It wasn’t until 1994, however, that he began training new teachers en masse in his fabled method. At that point, there were only four Bikram studios in the world, all in the United States, and Bikram was still training teachers one-on-one, the traditional method in India.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
sonia.drek
sonia.drek

                                  BIKRAM CHOUDHARY IS BASTERD AND PERVERT 

i got some information about bikram choudhary he seems to be pervert and a old man with full of ego...he tried to rape one girl from his teachers tranning i was shock to read this .Bikram tHe basterd first try all his tricks on her but one day he corssed all limits of huminity,The girl was trying preparing for yoga championship and he asked Bikram how to win yoga champonship what postuer and wat changes she shoud make in reply he the basterd put his hand on her leg and whisper sexual favour and the he hold her from behind and pressed his penis into her legs.

and this basterd said i am so lonley i need somone to have sex to massage me otherwise i will die.. What is this a Yogi or pervert a girl who is just his daughters age this basterd is askiing all this and and bloody had sexual relationship with almost all good looking girls who comes for teachers tranning and has one Girl Friend In Japan  and wife at home ...and when this girl said ok if you need sex you have your wife ..this basterd and Fucker said she is bitch..and then this girls again asked him what about your Girl Friend basterd said she is just for sex i dont love her...Please have sex with me otherwise i will die .Then this innocent girls said your yoga will fix this problem he said no now no yoga will can fix this its not working on his body...i feel he is really basterd i cant even call him dog or pig as these animals are innocent but this Old pervert is basterd and feel bad why we americans still paying him Huge amount for his stupid teachers tranning we shoud throw him out of this country 




AYogi
AYogi

The essence of Yog and Yoga practice is lost in this materialistic discussion.Wake up people and get a life.Breathe and spread love ,paece and happiness.According to Bhagvad Gita:you cannot get more than you deserve and Whatever you do, just surrender your achievements or failures to God. This way you will experience eternal bliss void of any EGO, desires and sorrows. OM TAT SAT

Paul
Paul

Hooy crap, as Apu would say. 6 pages of this 1%er crapola? LOL!

Betty
Betty

Waiting for someone (Village Voice?) to interview some of the MANY Bikram affiliated studio owners who have refused to sign any of the franchise agreements Bikram has exhorted them to sign. He has screamed and yelled, threatened them with lawsuits, told them he will approve studios across the street or around the corner from them, told them they are personally loathed by others in the community, ridiculed them, spied,on them, in short bullied in every way he could and STILL more than 2/3 of them have refused to sign. Even owners who have been part of the Bikram community from its earliest days have refused to capitulate to his demands on this issue. What do they know that NO ONE in the press knows?????

FindingNamo
FindingNamo

I hope Bikram payed royalties for the roomful of people singing the "Happy Birthday" tune.

YogiB
YogiB

I notice Ms. Moss didn't reflect the feelings of the more than 200 Bikram studio owners who have refused to sign the many iterations of franchise documents Bikram has demanded they sign. As people who have taught his method for decades, been his most ardent supporters for decades, might they have valuable insights to share? Ms. Moss also got the history wrong. For the past 30 or so years AFFILIATED studios PAID nothing except loyalty to remain in the Bikram fold. They were asked to follow his prescriptions for the room and yoga, and that adherence was their only payment. Most of them complied happily and sent hundreds and hundreds of people to Teacher Training and Bikram lived WELL on the millions he earned from those teacher trainings. Was the yoga corrupted? Watered down in this process of training teachers en masse for profit? Some of these old alcolytes argue it was. Bikram didn't seem to think there was any problem except that he started to struggle to live on 5 million. For the record, Ms. Moss, the Bikram of the early years followed HIS guru's teachings (Yogananda, Bishnu Ghosh's brother) and PROMISED he would NEVER charge studio owners anything to teach the yoga...Yogananda said that the yoga should never be used to enrich a single person, a teaching Bikram has more recently discarded along with his many promises never to charge studio owners. YTTP charges $8 for a drop-in class. If you practice four times a week, at that rate you are paying FAR more per class than most regular students in a traditional Bikram school (with an annual package, most students pay as little as $2.75 per class for daily practice). Have these lower prices corrupted or ruined the yoga? Hardly. Schools fail because they are poorly run and don't know how to compete in an ever more crowded yoga marketplace. Simple as that. And it hasn't hurt Bikram to have all of these yoga studios popping up like mushrooms: 600 people in teacher training at $10K a pop, the staff all DONATE their time and expertise, teachers and studio owner DONATE their time and energy as they have done for years, and the trainees have to then be re-trained at their home studios because Bikram is shuffling them through like cattle in a shute, their ONLY skill regurgetating the dialogue on demand.

Shawna
Shawna

Greg was an instructor at my Bikram training in 2000. He was(is) one of my favorite teachers. I learned so much from him. I went on to work for him just before his move to NYC. He is awesome mentor,whatever he teaches...It 's unfortunate the politics. It detracts from the real magic and healing that goes on in yoga. I say we keep the focus there.

Amybercasio
Amybercasio

It is extremely offensive! It's tiresome to see journalist giving bikram's position so much attention. If Gumucio ran bikram's teacher training for several years he is more than likely training his current hot teachers to be on par or above the Bikram graduates. He's providing a better quality product at a lower price. THAT'S the flame under bikram's a**!

MarjMorningstar
MarjMorningstar

Bikram comes off as a selfish, crazy, megalomaniacal moron. That's because he is.

Sickworld
Sickworld

How insane can this be, you can take no side and still think that to compare anyone to hitler or osama given their histories is an insult to all those who suffered at the hands of those monsters. and to compare yourself to jesus at the same time?

 
New York Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...