The Hot Yoga War

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

“That’s when things started to go south,” Gumucio says. Bikram felt a sting of betrayal at seeing his protégé take on a new mentor. “He said: ‘You cannot be a fucking prostitute. You cannot have your feet in two holes.’”

At the same time, other students had begun to rebel against Bikram. They formed Open Source Yoga Unity (OSYU) “to get out from under his brain,” Gumucio says.

For a $500 membership fee, hot yoga teachers could join OSYU anonymously, and in the process, they would gain an advocate that would help them “teach yoga freely.”

In 2005, the group sued Bikram for sending its members cease-and-desist letters, only to lose the case. Although 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 to 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.

Gumucio removed himself from the yoga world until 2006, when he rented a small space in Manhattan and began teaching a donation-based class every 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 couldn’t all fit in one room.

Yoga to the People was born. During 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,” Gumucio says. “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.”

Although 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.

The Yoga Code

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, with matted hair and soaked clothes.

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.

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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?

 
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