Want to know why I hate Bikram Choudhury? For starters, he’s suing Yoga To The People, a studio owned by one of his former students, Gregory Gumucio, for $1 million on grounds of copyright infringement. Which doesn’t make me angry because I think he’s wrong—in all likelihood, Gumucio and his teachers are probably ripping off his ideas—but, as plenty of Bikram-critics have pointed out before: Yoga has existed for thousands of years, and at least in theory, the whole point of all those back bends and chair poses is to cultivate a more loving, peaceful attitude (in addition to a nice butt). So suing someone for trying to spread all that feel-good, do-good philosophy is pretty ludicrous. (Not to mention; Bikram didn’t exactly ‘invent’ any of the moves he’s teaching himself.)
Bikram claims that Gumucio’s schools—which, as the name implies, try to make yoga more accessible through lower-priced and sometimes free classes—teach his signature series of 26 yoga moves in their “Traditional Hot Yoga” classes, but without the required authorizations. To teach Bikram yoga, you have to receive his $10,000 certification and teach at a Bikram-approved school, where nothing but Bikram is taught. (Yoga to the People, on the other hand, teaches more than just hot yoga.)
Bikram’s attorney says they sent a few “spies” to some of Yoga to the People’s classes to verify that they’re really stealing his yoga sequence, and now they’re taking him to court for $1 million. Gumucio responded simply that “It’s crazy that [Choudhury] can think he owns yoga.”
And by all accounts, Bikram does seem slightly crazy. (Which is something to worry about when you’re contemplating what kind of yoga to take up, if you ask me.) He’s been profiled as a narcissist dressed in a guru’s clothing, and if his maniacal lawsuit against other yoga teachers hasn’t convinced you that he’s more money-hungry than bliss-loving, his recent decision to peddle “yoga” supplements at his studios should help.
It’s not that I have beef with yoga teachers trying to make money; in reality, most of them don’t, but assuming that they’re qualified and working hard to teach good classes, they’re providing a valuable service. And the vast majority don’t get compensated for it nearly as well as we’d like to think. (Your $15 class fee doesn’t go straight into their pocket, unfortunately.) I just think claiming a sequence of centuries-old yoga poses as intellectual property is a pretty sleazy way to improve your profit margin.
Stick with the supplements, Bikram.
Photo: Champlain Running Group