While the various yoga practices belong to the long tradition of Indian culture, the specific arrangement of these poses can be uniquely organized and thus potentially owned by an individual — or so it was previously thought.

On June 22 the Copyright Office seemed to reverse itself. Deputy General Counsel Robert Kasunic issued a clarification, declaring that if yoga postures improve health, they cannot be copyrighted. He added that any prior yoga copyrights were "issued in error."

The announcement threw the dispute into the air. Now, the question isn't just whether Gumucio violated a copyright, but whether Bikram's copyright is valid at all.

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.”

This would appear to leave Bikram on thin ice. The healing of ailments has always been his primary selling point. Or at least that's how Gumucio sees it.

"Not only does this get me out of my legal mess, but it critically and unequivocally says yoga cannot be copyrighted," he says.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. Nothing to do with the federal government ever is.

While Kasunic admits that Bikram's copyright was likely issued in error and that no new copyrights will be issued to yoga, he also says his office has no plans to re-evaluate the ones already issued.

In other words, his is a quintessential government mea culpa: Yes, we probably messed up. But you don't expect us to actually do anything about it, do you?

Instead, Bikram and Gumucio will have to wait for a judge to settle their war when the case goes to trial in Los Angeles sometime next year.

It's Still Good to Be King

To most of the country, the yoga war may be nothing more than another mercantile fight between two titans wrestling over the spoils of their industry. Yet back at the banquet hall in Boston, Bikram frames Gumucio as a villain on par with the all-time greats.

"If you have a sick body, a screw-loose brain, you will only be surviving — that will be a man like Greg, Hitler or Osama bin Laden," he says, between bites of plump scallops.

Bikram now claims "zero feeling" for his old disciple and believes that the American courts will eventually decide that rectitude is at his side, where it rightfully belongs.

"You cannot steal somebody's intellectual property. Law and justice protect," Bikram says, leaning close to be heard amid the roar of conversation, his small brown eyes red with exhaustion. "Because I'm a sweet, kind guy, everybody thinks I'm an idiot, I'm weak. Now I have to protect my franchising. If I don't, nobody will buy my franchising anymore."

Suddenly, there is the chime of a butter knife clinking against a wine glass for quiet. It comes from one of Bikram's close friends, who is standing with his arm around the guru's wife, Rajashree.

"Today is Bikram and Rajashree's 23rd wedding anniversary," the man announces proudly as the room erupts in applause.

"Oh, I forgot! Shit!" Bikram exclaims as a large mango cake is wheeled to the center of the room. "I forgot completely! Shit! Why you didn't remind me? Shit! You keep me too busy!"

The yogis sing "happy anniversary" to the tune of "Happy Birthday." Then Bikram announces that, far from forgetting the occasion, he has bought his wife one of the world's most expensive cars, an $800,000 Rolls-Royce convertible.

Bikram seems to inflate with energy as he addresses his followers. "You work hard to make me famous," he says. "Something I did right all over the globe."

"Brainwashing!" someone calls out.

Bikram laughs. "Nobody in the world ever did this," he continues. "Nobody built a family like this."

A family — with all the usual exclusions and estrangements.

When he returns to the table, Bikram turns to me. "Greg Gumucio, he's finished," he says. "He's ass in the grass." 

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help

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!


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 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.


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.


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.

St. Louis Concert Tickets