Players: Bikram Choudhury, the multi-millionaire creator of the very popular, brand-named, sweat-filled, inferno-facilitated Bikram Yoga practice; Gregory Gumucio, a one-time right hand man to Choudhury who now heads up Yoga to the People, a boho, hippy-ish yoga company determined to make yoga affordable to everyone
The Opening Serve: Choudhury has served Yoga to the People legal papers, and more pertinently, is seeking $1 million from the company for stealing its Bikram routine. "The particular class identified in the case is a virtual mirror image of Bikram Yoga and it used virtually verbatim the Bikram Yoga dialogue," Choudhury's lawyer told DNAinfo, which also reports that Choudhury's team had employed undercover yoga spies to check out Yoga to the People's alleged copy-cat class, "Hot Yoga." Choudhury's lawsuit explains that it costs $10,000 to get a teacher Bikram-certified, and $20 to take one of those certified classes. Yoga to the People's "Hot Yoga" class runs about $8 according to various reports--it should also be noted that most of Yoga to the People's classes are run with a suggested donation. DNA info also points out that a popular Bikram Yoga-certified studio which closed earlier this year also blamed Yoga to the People for undercutting its business and popularity.
The Return Volley: Gregory Gumucio, creator of Yoga to the People and former right hand man to Choudhury says the lawsuit is absurd. "I think that yoga should be made available to everybody. It should be in the hands of the people, not in the hands of a few," said Gumucio to DNAinfo. Adding in Metro, "It's crazy that [Choudhury] can think he owns yoga ... If he owns the sequence, it opens a floodgate for lots of people to start trying to copyright, trademark and patent this traditional, sacred knowledge." Gumucio and his company have started a petition that defends Gumucio and his studio, and so far, over 3,000 have signed it. "If the court said he owns it then he owns it," Gumucio told DNAinfo, "but it will be a sad day for humanity."
What They Say They're Fighting About: Yoga. Is it exercise? A way of life? Sacred knowledge? Can it be copyrighted? There's probably not even a consensus among yoga practitioners. But Choudhury believes that a certain set of poses done in an unforgiving hot room is his invention and is within his rights to copyright. Gumucio believes in the democratization of the practice and that the day someone "owns" yoga, "it will be a sad day for humanity."
What They're Really Fighting About: Business and branding. Obviously, there's the charge that Yoga to the People is undercutting Bikram Yoga, but it goes a lot deeper than that. You have two brands here, Bikram-- the exclusive, designer, pricey option and Yoga to the People's "Hot Yoga" option--the generic, hippyish, affordable option. And by claiming that Yoga to the People is getting a sweet profit off of its mandatory "Hot Yoga" class, Bikram points out that the Yoga to the People might actually be a lot more profitable and a lot less wholesome than people think it is. Of course, Gumucio counters this by claiming that Choudhury and Bikram are selfish corporations first and yoga teachers second, or possibly farther down the line.
Who's Winning Now: Gumucio and Yoga to the People. They have the support of the people (the 3,000+ signatures) and seem to have the edge when it comes to success--Choudhury suing them and the other Bikram studio blaming them for shutting down is evidence of their success. What works here is that Gumucio and his company are more aligned with that unfettered yoga image--it's a mat, poses, and a gigantic part of its appeal is that everyone can do it. Having the designer, exclusive version of that, as Choudhury does, sort of puts you in a corner when it comes to the yoga world. But even then--if Choudhury designer, brand-name yoga is being outsold by the generic version, then perhaps it's just as much a failing on Choudhury's own part if there's no value added by taking his pricier version.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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