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 each Sunday. His role model at the time was Bryan Kest, who'd launched donation-based power yoga studios in Santa Monica, California, and believes in making yoga accessible to everyone.

Greg Gumucio’s Yoga to the People studios pose a financial threat to Choudhury’s: “The price point is lower, so we get a bigger volume.”
Kevin P. Casey
Greg Gumucio’s Yoga to the People studios pose a financial threat to Choudhury’s: “The price point is lower, so we get a bigger volume.”

Gumucio's first class had just ten students. By the third Sunday, so many people showed up that they couldn't all 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. Lots 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 twenty-minute mark. By No. 6 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 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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7 comments
yogacatgirl
yogacatgirl

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!

AJLind
AJLind

I don't see how anyone can trademark or copyright BODY POSITIONS in a hot room.  That is simply idiotic. No offense, but Bikram seems greedy and gluttonous and hardly like any of the Indian yogis I have met in India where material things are inconsequential.  He actually comes across as a fraud.  P.S., I don't do yoga these days at all after getting plantar fascitis from it.

egolterman
egolterman topcommenter

Since you publish in St. Louis and for St. Louisans it might have been good to be aware that

John Golterman two decades ago was Bikram's point-man in the New York area-so to speak-establishing in Chelsea. His reputation,  skills and demeanor  'advanced' the movement. After 9-11

John took 'hot' joga to Williamsburg, Brooklyn just a few blocks up from the River.  Not to criticize a very thorough article. His overview of all of this might have been helpful.

Ghosts of WGNU
Ghosts of WGNU

Yes, this seems to be from the RFT's sister publication in Los Angeles. The common thread: Both are owned by Phoenix-based Village Voice Media (formerly NewTimes). It goes the other way as well; other VVM publications have picked up stories from the RFT. That's how it is when you own multiple publications in several cities. A quick check of VVM's web sites shows it's being picked up by most of VVM's publications this week.

The_gormans
The_gormans

Didn't I read this exact article in the LA weekly in February??? Who is Rebecca Moss? She is not listed on your masthead as a contributing reporter? Are you recycling articles from other publications???

Mohd. Cohen
Mohd. Cohen

As a copyright and trade mark attorney for more than 25 years I have carefully studied the legalities of Bikram Yoga and did a thorough research of its copyright validity. I am 100% sure that Bikram would prevail based on two major components of copyright law. One, he has a very strict sequence of yoga postures and two breathing exercises., two, each posture of Bikram yoga has a very strictly worded composition of script that must be narrated at each class by the teaching yogi teacher. I am positive that Bikram couldn't fail less a great majority of musical, playrights, and several types of physical exercises, become invalid if Bikram's copyright is reversed.

Goku_Mizuno
Goku_Mizuno

It could be that Mr. Gumucio is just teaching a generalized style of yoga, and not Bikram yoga itself. It is the onus of Mr. Choudhury to prove that his copyright is being infringed on; he cannot claim to have invented yoga, and thus, only his yoga can be taught.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of different styles of yoga, and YttP may be different from Bikram.

 
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