Here’s someone who thinks Bikram should have won his copyright lawsuit

Here’s a counter to what seems the prevailing idea that the Bikram sequence of yoga poses should not be able to be copyrighted:

Yet the emphasis on the science of yoga doesn’t demonstrate that Bikram yoga isn’t also a highly specific form of coordinated bodily motions arranged in a particular way to produce an aesthetic reaction — in other words, choreography.

Congress specifically gave copyright protection to choreography in 1976, without defining the term. (Apparently, you know it when you see it.) Remarkably, the 9th Circuit thought that it could deny choreography protection to the Bikram sequence without defining the term itself. The court said that the Bikram sequence can’t be copyrighted because “it is an idea, process, or system,” and those are legally unprotectable — even if they are also choreography.

This can’t be right. Consider the ballets of George Balanchine, whose copyrights are carefully guarded by the George Balanchine Trust. Each and every one of those ballets unquestionably incorporates an idea, or rather many ideas: of modernism, of classicism, of the relationship of movement to music, and so on.

What’s more, many people do ballet as a form of exercise and as an aesthetic-spiritual meditative experience, just as they do yoga.

I think that’s the crux of the argument from this BloombergView piece. Something about the choreography = yoga (really, asanas) doesn’t quite pass muster for me. Perhaps I don’t quite agree that an established dance move is the same thing as a particular asana. But I get why someone would want to argue that.

Maybe Bikram will appeal higher.

Posted by Steve

Bikram on wrong end of major court ruling

A three-person panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against Bikram Choudhury in a case involving his attempt to copyright his yoga sequence.

The news is out there at various outlets. Here’s Time:

Bikram Choudhury, the self-styled creator of Bikram yoga, has for years threatened to sue practitioners that he feels are copying his signature yoga poses. However, a court ruled on Thursday that he has no legal right to do so.


Choudhury’s most recent legal case involved Evolation Yoga, a Florida-based studio that the magnate accused of copyright violations.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has now disagreed with him after he appealed a district judge’s ruling in favor of Evolation. The judges clearly stated that his sequence cannot be protected by copyright law, the Times reports.

“Copyright protects only the expression of this idea — the words and pictures used to describe the sequence — and not the idea of the sequence itself,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, one of the judges on the panel, wrote.

Radio coverage I heard here in Los Angeles of the ruling — Bikram’s based here — reported that the judges also determined yoga is meant to improve people’s health and well-being and that copyrighting such a thing would be akin to giving a doctor exclusive rights to using a certain medical procedure.

He could appeal up… but I’m not sure given the substance of the ruling that he has a good chance. But you never know.

Posted by Steve

Bikram responds to assault allegations

Bikram Choudhury has responded publicly to the allegations of rape and sexual assault from six of his students.

Here’s a link to the CNN report (which is of course a video). It’s an exclusive, and the first time he has talked about it.

The Daily Mail gives you the summary:

Speaking out for the first time since six women filed civil lawsuits accusing him of unwanted sexual advances, 69-year-old Bikram Choudhury strongly denied the accusations.

‘I never assaulted them,’ he said as he spoke to CNN. ‘The answer is I feel sorry for them… They’re entranced by somebody – lawyers.’


Choudhury told CNN that his success means he would never need to assault anyone.

‘Women likes me. Women loves me,’ he said. ‘So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women.’

When asked how his wife of more than 30 years, fellow yoga instructor Rajashree Choudhury, had responded to the accusations, Choudhury became emotional.

‘My wife never look at me anymore,’ he said.

‘Twenty-four hours a day, I work harder than any human being in this Earth… and this is my reward? I’m a rapist? Shame [on] your Western culture.’

No, this isn’t a late April Fool’s post.

Posted by Steve

The focus again lands on Bikram

We’ve touched on Bikram Choudhury’s troubles a few times — and it seems this story may be nearing its denouement.

Bikram, you probably know, faces several rape charges, including a new one filed this month. There is now an August court date — soon enough that the New York Times just posted a story suggesting that “cracks show” in his empire:

But a day of legal reckoning is drawing closer for the guru, Bikram Choudhury. He is facing six civil lawsuits from women accusing him of rape or assault. The most recent was filed on Feb. 13 by a Canadian yogi, Jill Lawler, who said she was raped by Mr. Choudhury during a teacher-training in the spring of 2010.

This month, a Los Angeles judge cleared away several challenges to a lawsuit from a former student who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during another 2010 teacher-training.

A statement issued by lawyers for Mr. Choudhury and his yoga college, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuits, said that “Mr. Choudhury did not sexually assault any of the plaintiffs” and that the women were “unjustly” exploiting the legal system for financial gain.

“Their claims are false and dishonor Bikram yoga and the health and spiritual benefits it has brought to the lives of millions of practitioners throughout the world,” the statement said. “After a thorough investigation, the Los Angeles County district attorney declined to file any sexual assault charges against Mr. Choudhury or the college for lack of evidence.”

An August trial date has been set in Ms. Baughn’s case. In her complaint, she said that Mr. Choudhury pursued her starting with a teacher-training she attended in 2005, when she was 20. She said he whispered sexual advances during classes, and assaulted and groped her in a hotel room and at his home.

I suppose there’s the possibility it will get settled before the trial — but if it goes to trial, I’d guess the details will be pretty salacious and get a ton of media attention.

Posted by Steve

A bright idea: A shala library

The folks at Brighton Ashtanga Shala have come up with a bright (ahem, get it?) idea: A shala library. Here’s how they describe it:

We have started a small yoga library in the shala for current students. If you would like to borrow a book then please read the notice above the book case about what to do. Book donations are also welcome if you have anything you would like to share. Happy reading!

According to the website, Jess Davies and Laura Cornish are both Level 1 Authorized teachers. And when it says, “Brighton,” it means just that. Brighton, U.K. Not in NY.

This seems like an idea that would work at any number of shalas. It also is sort of quaint in our Internet age. And imagine the traffic one could drive if you advertised, “We’ve opened our library and have found a copy of the Yoga Korunta.” The trick? Always have it be checked out. Maybe by ants.

There are a few other things to point you to, as well.

David Garrigues has a blog post and video up on the slightly less elusive than Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha. Link here and video:


You should check out Tim Miller’s latest blog post. It’s about a universal high-surf advisory (which I think also means that Tim’s gotten back into the water for some body surfing, but that’s just my guess).

And two in the mainstream press yoga stories (which I pass on so you won’t be blindsided by your non-yoga practicing friends who hear/read them). The first: According to the USA Today, Lululemon is denying its making people “prove” their pants are too sheer by bending over for an inspection. The second: The NY Times covers the Bikram misconduct lawsuit. (It might be worth clicking on just to see the “giant” Bikram yoga class from 2003.)

Posted by Steve

A few controversies that (mostly) don’t have anything to do with Ashtanga

Given we’ve followed the Bikram lawsuit story — because of the question around copyrighting of a yoga sequence — it seems only fair to note that ABC’s Nightline program ran a piece on the issue and another lawsuit against the guru behind the hottest yoga craze.

Can’t get the video to embed, but here’s a link. A highlight, I think, is video from a deposition by Bikram that comes fairly late in the piece. And here’s a link to the online story. A few excerpts:

To his hard-bodied disciples, Bikram Choudhury is a yoga rock star.

Bikram, who, like Madonna, tends to go by one name only, developed the original “hot yoga,” a rigorous sequence of 26 poses performed over the course of 90 minutes in a room heated to a stifling 105 degrees.


Bikram insists his form of yoga doesn’t just improve the body and invigorate people’s sex lives but that it also saves lives.

“I can make you live 100 years,” he said. “Say you have a bad knee, you want to fix your knee, come to my class… Do the same 26 postures with a woman who has a uterus problem. Same 26 poses, the uterus will be taken care of. Your knee will be taken care of.

“I’ve cured patients who have absolutely no hope, 98 percent of heart was clogged, they don’t even want surgery,” Bikram continued. “Send him to me and eight months later I send him back, brand new heart like a panther heart.”

The piece really picks up when it focuses on a different lawsuit from the one involving Yoga to the People and Bikram’s trademarking (it involves the deposition I mentioned above). Here are some of those details:

In 2010, Pandhora Williams spent about $11,000 to attend Bikram’s intensive teacher training course in San Diego. She claims she was offended by portions of what she said Bikram said in his “dialogue,” the banter that helps distract students through 90 minutes of body-bending poses. She claims that during class, Bikram made derogatory comments about women and homosexuals, saying, “Women are bitches and whores. They’re here for one thing, and that’s to make babies.”

After completing seven weeks of the nine-week course, Pandhora said she confronted Bikram.

“I walked up to him, and I said ‘Bikram, You’re breaking my heart.’ That’s what I said to him. ‘Why are you preaching hate when there’s already so much hatred in the world?'” said Williams, who claimed his response to her was, “‘We don’t sell love here, you f**king black bitch. Get out.'”

Bikram declined “Nightline” requests to talk about the case, but ABC News obtained video and transcripts of his deposition in which Bikram denied making hateful comments and claimed Williams approached him in a way that made him feel threatened for his health and safety.

“I’m the most successful man in the world,” he said. “It will keep going like this way as long as I live. If some sick crazy person think what I am it’s their problem. It’s not my problem. I’ll still continue keep doing it.”

Williams is now suing Bikram for unspecified damages. The case is scheduled to go to trial in March.

Another controversy happening now kind of, sort of, involves two of the Confluence teachers. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve already heard about it, but here it is on “our record”: This weekend’s Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco, where Richard Freeman and David Swenson are teaching (and MC Yogi is doing his thing), is under fire for taking place in a hotel where workers are picketing. Here is a bit from the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

[J]ury’s out in this particular case: this weekend, the Yoga Journal Conference will cross a hotel workers’ union picket line for the third year in a row at the Hyatt Regency.

“Yoga Journal has ignored years of outreach from hotel workers and their union and chooses to hide behind logistical concerns in a matter of right and wrong,” says Julia Wong of UNITE HERE Local 2, whose union called for a worldwide boycott last year in light of unfair treatment of its workers. Supporters of the boycott include the NFL Players Association.

So what’s up with the yogis? “For years I’ve looked into moving the conference,” says conference director Elana Maggal. But, she told the Guardian in an email, the only other hotel that’s large enough to accomodate [sic] the 2,000 flexibles forecasted to attend the event — the Marriott — was unable at the times Yoga Journal needed. “So [the choices were] either not have an SF conference or hold it at the Hyatt,” says Maggal. “We’ve chosen the latter, fully aware that it is not a perfect choice, but hopeful that both sides will finalize the remaining issues quickly and fairly.”

I’ve seen some Facebook chatter about whether the conference should be held there and Yoga Dork has a discussion going. (While grabbing that link, I see she’s also got up the Bikram stuff. Great minds think alike?) My guess is this story, which seems on the surface to be fairly cut and dry, might be a bit more convoluted; perhaps not. That Yoga Journal is the entity behind it probably encourages people who have opinions for or against that publication to speak up more loudly than they might otherwise.

I don’t know what the workers’ issues are or whether not having a big yoga conference there would help their plight. But these are the stories of the day in our shared Maya existence.

Posted by Steve

Bikram, Yoga to the People settle copyright lawsuit

This story goes back a ways, but because it is one we covered, I want to put the final bow on it.

Bikram Choudhury and Greg Gumucio of Yoga to the People, once Bikram’s right-hand man, have settled their lawsuits involving whether Gumucio was infringing on Bikram’s copyright for his yoga poses.

ABC News had the details from last week (and seems to be the only place that does, perhaps because it is doing a segment on the issue sometime soon). As part of the deal, Gumucio will stop teaching the 26-asana sequence that we commonly think of as Bikram Yoga (and which Bikram believes he owns). Our coverage of this can be found here.

This story had some wider meaning beyond the Bikram and even yoga world because of the copyright issues involved. For yoga, and Ashtanga in particular, the issue is pretty clearly: What happens if one teacher or particular “school” tries to copyright a series of asanas? As a result of these lawsuits, the U.S. Copyright Office did alter a long-standing position that while a dance sequence or other choreography could be copyrighted, the same likely doesn’t hold true for something similar that claims to have medical benefits.

And, as ABC notes, with Bikram saying “half a billion people” have benefited from his yoga — talk about yoga to the people, huh? — he clearly touts the health benefits a lot.

My non-expert guess from this is that future yogis seeking to copyright their particular asana sequences will have a tough time. But because the two sides settled, that issue has not been explicitly addressed yet. So… maybe more to come?

Update, Dec. 10: Link to Gumucio’s explanation for the end to the suit: Right here. New York Times coverage here.

Posted by Steve

Asthanga: The best yoga for strength

Hey, if Shape magazine says something, it has to be true, right?

I just saw where the mag listed Ashtanga as the best yoga for strength. Here’s why:

While several styles of yoga can help strengthen your body, ashtanga’s heavily repeated series of vinyasas—chatarunga (a yogi push-up), up dog, and down dog—between each pose (and on each side!) is guaranteed to make you strong and fierce, says Lauren Imparato, a certified yoga instructor and owner of the I.AM.YOU. Studioin New York City. Holding the poses, with this repetition of vinyasas in between, will develop targeted muscles in every part of your body, including those you never knew you had.

Find it: Imparato recommends looking for classes with names like “led primary series” or “basic ashtanga.” And, if you are comfortable simply watching and following along without a teacher giving instructions, look for “mysore” classes.

And, because we all know that “the more you know … ” the better, here are the other “winners”:

Best yoga for beginners: Iyengar. “This slow-paced class incorporates props such as straps, blocks, bolsters, and blankets in order to aid in more precise postures and poses and will challenge your body in a safe, educational manner, [Sara] Ivanhoe says.”

Best for stress: Hatha. Are you with me when you say, “Huh?” Isn’t that pretty much any asana? Well, in this case, Shape claims it is “a yoga style that focuses on balancing your entire body’s energy as well as deepening the mind-body connection and stretching tight muscles via poses, deep breathing, and meditation.”

Best for athletes: Power yoga. Not Ashtanga? Well, there is this caveat: “Ashtanga and vinyasa styles also often fall under the “power yoga” umbrella.”

Best for “revving up your sex life”: Kundalini. “Breathing exercises, including the alternate nostril method, are also used to unleash your sexual energy, and don’t be surprised if the teachers have long beards and are wearing white.” Hold on while I get to a class.

Best for meditation: Anusara. Style makes no mention of John Friend.

Best for quick weight loss: Bikram.

Best for “recovering and healing”: Restorative. OK, now we’re just getting kind of ridiculous, right?

Best for flexibility: Yin. OK, I better pay attention to this: “Yin yoga has a more passive approach to flexibility, allowing your body to release into poses and postures versus actively powering through them.” Apparently is focuses on connective tissues. I’m just going to pretend I didn’t read this one.

Best for spirituality: Jivamukti. Hope there aren’t any Jivamukti classes in schools! “Upbeat or mellow music usually sets the tone for the class, and chanting, breath awareness, flowing sequences, alignment, and relaxation are all practiced to incorporate the five tenets of jivamukti yoga: Sanskrit scripture, devotion to God (bhatki), animal and environmental rights (ahisma), music, and meditation.”

Posted by Steve


Breaking down whether yoga can be copyrighted

We’ve been following the Bikram — Yoga to the People lawsuit, for two reasons: 1. It seems a fairly central issue to the business of yoga, whether one person can copyright a set of poses as Bikram has done (or, perhaps, tried to do). 2. Bikram’s among the most entertaining figures in yoga.

Our past posts on this are all here. Probably the key post is here.

What it all boiled down to is whether Yoga to the People’s Greg Gumucio — a former right-hand man to Bikram — can use the sequence of 26 yoga poses, set in a hot situation, that is “Bikram Yoga.” (By extension, also, whether others can do the same.) The latest policy statement from the U.S. Copyright Office would seem to suggest he could, and that Bikram doesn’t have as firm a grasp on his form of yoga as he’d like. Today, Forbes broke things down a bit more:

Categories of Copyrightable Subject Matter

Works of authorship that can be protected by U.S. copyright law are currently limited to the following eight established categories:

  1. literary works;
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words;
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works;
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  7. sound recordings; and
  8. architectural works.

The categories are non-exclusive, but only the U.S. Congress may create new categories. Congress did not delegate that authority to the courts or the Copyright Office.

Although a compilation may be based on the selection, coordination or arrangement of uncopyrightable elements (such as facts or data), must those elements relate to the foregoing categories of authorship or could they relate to other categories? In other words, could the selection, coordination or arrangement of uncopyrightable subject matter constitute a protectable compilation? After a lengthy analysis, the Copyright Office concludes that to be copyrightable, a compilation must relate to one of the eight established categories. So a collection of 100 rocks would not be protected by copyright since rocks are not protectable subject matter. However, a list of the names of an author’s 100 favorite rocks would be a protectable compilation since such a list may be considered a literary work.

Forbes then explains that according to the Copyright Office a set of yoga poses or a brief set of dance moves wouldn’t fall under any of those eight categories, including the choreographic one, because “a choreographic work must be a “composition and arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into an integrated, coherent, and expressive whole” and “[s]imple dance routines do not represent enough original choreographic authorship to be copyrightable.””

That sounds to me like there’s a distinction being made between yoga (specifically in this case) and more creatively focused works, i.e. a novel, movie or piece of art. (Is there an argument to be made to the contrary?)

I believe that Bikram has compared his yoga sequence to a song, with each pose like a note strung together into an uniquely arranged whole. Where we’ve always had trouble with that comparison is that a yoga pose seems more like a whole song to us — already the sum of many parts, or notes. And so the set of 26 poses in Bikram’s sequence becomes more akin to his stringing together other people’s songs into a musical.

And then Bikram becomes like “Mamma Mia,” a collection of Abba songs. But in that case, whoever holds the copyright to Abba’s songs would have had to give the OK (or been involved, however the creation of that musical originally worked.) No one can get the OK from whoever “invented” Warrior Pose to use it.

Where we are, then, seems to be that past rulings in Bikram’s favor that a yoga sequence could be copyrighted were wrong. Just what that opens up will probably involve another round of court cases, of course. We are in America, after all.

Posted by Steve

Two things you really ought to read

You may have noticed that normally we don’t point you in the direction of online pieces that don’t relate closely to the Confluence’s (now) six teachers or to Ashtanga. (Very early on we did cast a wider yoga net, but no more.)

We assume you can find items at the big online yoga sites — elephant journal pops to mind — without our assistance, and that there are other avenues to get broader yoga news.

Time to break that usual M.O.

There are two pieces that are worth your time. One is on the Bikram-Yoga to the People lawsuit (which we did cover a bit ) and the other is an ej piece on the Primary Series.

Bikram, via the Dallas Observer

First, Bikram. The reason we point you to it — besides the fact I still think the lawsuit eventually will have impact on the yoga business here in America — is that the story is in the Village Voice papers this week. I’ve seen it both at Westword in Denver and the Dallas Observer, and I’m sure it’s in your local Voice alt weekly, too.

The title: “The Hot Yoga Wars.” And the first excerpt I want to share is:

Everyone here practices the Bikram method of yoga, a series of 26 postures and two breathing sequences performed for 90 minutes in a climate-controlled environment of 105 degrees. It’s the only correct way to practice yoga, Bikram insists. Everything else is “shit.”

OK, then. We’ve got Bikram Choudury in full effect. There’s plenty more of the usual boasting quotes from him.

The piece is a pretty decent read; perhaps more straight-forward, aside from the swear words from Bikram, than a typical alt weekly piece. Bryan Kest gets a mention as a model for Greg Gumucio, who is the other half to the lawsuit and Bikram’s former top assistant (and, apparently, masseuse).

Here’s, ultimately, why I think folks in the yoga community — including Ashtanga, as insular as we often seem to be — ought to read this:

Yet while philosophy remains the outer crust of the dispute between Bikram and Gumucio, at heart it’s a battle over money. Lot 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.

So be aware.

For Ashtanga practitioners, there also is the issue of lineage and “the right yoga.” Yes, we’re hearkening back to the Jois Yoga issue a bit, but tell me whether this doesn’t seem familiar:

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 exact 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.

Fortunately, I think, the cooler heads who learned so much from Guruji have kept Ashtanga from going this route. (I’m not enough of an expert on the origins of power yoga and its split from Ashtanga years ago to say how similar that schism was.) Perhaps that reflects a difference between Guruji and Bikram and the lessons they imparted and the respect they earned.

I think there’s an example of the difference I’m talking about in the Voice story. It comes immediately after the two paragraphs cited above:

“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.”

The difference, I think, can be found in the word “studio.” All those amenities that come with a Bikram studio — and I sure can see why a shower would be a plus — appear to be Donegan’s focus.

Why not focus on the “yoga?” If she had said, “If it starts to bring down the value of the yoga… then I think it becomes a problem,” I’d agree. But she is talking about the business, the walls and floors, the heating, the showers. I can’t imagine any of the Confluence teachers — or the other Ashtanga teachers I know and respect — focusing on the studio. Their concern would be the yoga, not the trappings around it.

The second item I’d direct you to is at elephant journal. It’s about Ashtanga’s Primary Series and how it provides the foundation — breath, bandhas, dristi — for the rest of the practice. It is by authorized teacher David Keil, and it is right here. For my money, this is the best line: “I often tell groups of students that just because they are doing the asanas in the sequence that is known as the primary series does not mean that they are actually doing the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.”


Update: You could make it “three” things to read. David Garrigues has a new item up, also at ej. Since we’re point you there, anyway… have a look. It’s on Pratyahara. (So, does that mean don’t look?)

Posted by Steve