The Hot-Yoga Wars

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

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.

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.

Bikram Choudhury
Courtesy of Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Choudhury

"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 some time 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 think 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 twenty-third 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."

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1 comments
Rob
Rob

I personally know Bikram, he's a customer of ours here in Honolulu (exotic cars). Man lives a very extravagant lifestyle, has over 200 cars in his collection, about 8 million dollars worth of watches and makes about 10 million a month. I don't patronize his franchises at all but he sure has made a brand out of his style. Dude was champ in India as a young kid and now his yoga is taught all around the world. There's a lesson in international business, marketing, quality control and franchising to learn from him. Other than all that, he's a nice guy, in his own assertive and boastful way.

 
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