Quick Saturday observation: Those Bikram yogis sure looked miserable

Bobbie and I just returned from a quick Los Angeles excursion to find some good Mexican food (success! Thank you, Atwater Village), and as we were walking toward the little hole-in-the-wall spot, out the doors of a Bikram studio came a class full of students.

It’s been a while since I ran against a tide of Bikram that way, and I was reminded of one thing: They looked miserable.

Now, I’ve only taken a few Bikram classes, and it was maybe eight years ago now. But I remember that feeling. The post-class moments, when you’ve sweated so much, can be awful. But you feel like you’ve exercised.

That’s the point, as far as I understand it. And there certainly is something cleansing about it, about such a full and hour-long or so sweat.

But … I don’t know. Something seemed missing compared to how I feel like Ashtangis seem after practicing. I know I’m biased, but … it isn’t something I can put my finger on, precisely.

It may have to do with how Guruji’s asana practice fits into the eight-limbs of yoga. While trying to avoid getting too touchy-feely, I guess I would say it is that un-graspable magic of the Ashtanga sequence. I know it doesn’t hook everyone, but I think everyone it does hook knows what I mean.

It’s what keeps the Ashtanga asana from just being gymnastics or exercise.

It did seem like all those Bikram folks had had a good workout.

Posted by Steve

Bikram lawyer says new copyright ruling ‘meaningless’ to lawsuit

While it does appear the U.S. Copyright Office has changed its tune about whether yoga poses can be trademarked, the lawyer for Bikram in his lawsuit against Yoga to the People is saying it doesn’t matter for their debate.

Robert Gilchrest points out that the Copyright Office has issued hundreds of copyrights for exercise videos.

“But now they’re saying they’re looking at it again and they’ve changed their mind?” he told Bloomberg news. “It is meaningless to this litigation.”

That’s obviously one side to the argument; we’ve seen pretty clearly what Greg Gumucio of Yoga to the People thinks.

I still suspect the final court ruling (and, if you are hoping to get some clarity around yoga’s freedom business-wise, you’ll want this to go to trial and for the two sides not to settle) will be what tells us where yoga as a business is headed.

Posted by Steve

Sunday conversation: Should yoga be ‘free’ to all people?

This week’s question is, really, the only one we can ask given the Yoga to the People vs. Bikram lawsuit and news.

For that background, check our posts here and here and here.

The question is, broadly, “Should yoga be free?” But what, exactly, does that mean? In the sense of the lawsuit, it means that no one — Bikram in particular — can claim a certain set of poses. But what of donation-based yoga? How critical is that?

And what of yoga’s larger mission? And what, precisely, is that larger mission? Is there even one?

Maybe it would be easier just to ponder: Should Bikram’s sequence of poses be open for all to use and follow?

Posted by Steve

Yoga to the People’s response to Bikram hinges on new copyright interpretation

Diving a little deeper into the Yoga to the People vs. Bikram issue, it looks like the key point to Greg Gumucio’s response is a new review by the U.S. Copyright Office that determines yoga and similar exercises can’t be copyrighted as “choreography”. Here’s the key section from Gumucio’s response, which we posted about earlier:

Fifth, the Choudhury Yoga Sequence is legally invalid because the Copyright Office has determined that yoga is not protected as choreography. According to a December 7, 2011 letter to Defendants from Laura Lee Fischer, Acting Chief of the Performing Arts Division ofthe Copyright Office, the Copyright Office previously “took the position that although functional physical movements did not represent the  type of authorship which Congress intended to be protected under the copyright law, [the Copyright Office] could register the selection and ordering of public domain exercises.” However, the Copyright Office recently reevaluated this position. “The Registration Program of the Copyright Office reviewed the legislative history relating to section l02(a) of the copyright law, and in conjunction with senior management, determined that exercises, including yoga exercises, do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect as choreography. Thus, we will not register such exercises (including yoga movements), whether described as exercises or as selection and ordering of movements.” (Emphasis added.) Attached hereto as Exhibit 3, and incorporated by this reference is a copy of Ms. Fischer’s December 7,2011 email to Elliot Alderman, counsel for Defendants.

That would be a change from the Office’s previous stance, and it does seem like it could be key to this suit. But while it seems to represent a change for future attempts to copyright any yoga sequence, I think the Court is still going to have to determine if it applies to Bikram and this case.

For those who want “yoga to be free,” though, it looks pretty good. Yoga to the People may end up living up to its name.

Posted by Steve

Here is Yoga to the People’s answer to Bikram

I will let you decide if this is an historic moment for yoga.

Greg Gumucio, via the Daily News

Greg Gumucio of Yoga to the People a few minutes ago filed his answer to the lawsuit brought against him by Bikram.

What it seems to come down to is the difference between a copyright and a patent.

“Bikram does not have a patent on his method,” Gumucio writes here. “Bikram may have a valid copyright on his 1978 book and on the rigid Dialogue that his instructors must recite in his classes. But, again, those copyrights are irrelevant because we do not use the book, and our instructors never recite any of the expressive passages in the Dialogue.”

Here’s a link to the actual answer filed in court in California.

Gumucio’s statement addresses two arguments to “Bikram’s claim that, even without a patent, he has the exclusive right to offer yoga classes that include the 26 poses in a heated room.”

The first is Bikram’s claim to a copyright on the series. Here’s where things get good and, maybe, move toward the “historic” nature Gumucio has been promising. At the least, it is serious food for thought concerning yoga and yoga as a business. At the risk of over-quoting him:

Copyright protection is limited to “original works of authorship” — novels, plays, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture, and so forth. The Copyright statute expressly excludes protection for “procedures,” “systems” and “methods of operation.”So, for example, games, sports, and recipes cannot be copyrighted. Yoga in general (and Bikram’s yoga in particular) is plainly a “system” or “procedure,” like a recipe or a sport, not an art form. Bikram himself has long argued that the primary function of his method is to promote health. Recently, he has even lobbied for recognition of yoga as an Olympic sport.

The only conceivable way to avoid this conclusion would be to claim that yoga is a form of choreography — which, like a play, is subject to copyright protection. But this argument quickly collapses. Yoga does not fit any of the standard definitions of choreography, such as “the art of dancing” (Oxford English Dictionary) or “the composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns usually intended to be accompanied by music.” Bikram should know this, because in 2002 he applied to the Copyright Office for registration of his sequence of poses as a “performing art.” In the letter in which the Office rejected that application, the office told him, “we do not register such claims as choreography.”

Gumucio also quarrels with claims that by graduating from a Bikram course he agreed to any restrictions on his teaching of the poses. He even goes so far as to argue: “Not only does this document [his certificate] not limit my rights to provide instruction in the sequence of poses, it does the reverse — expressly granting me the right to “teach” the “system” without any reservations whatsoever.”

He does acknowledge that Bikram likely has the right to maintain control over the term “Bikram” and the specific class structure as it is taught.

Gumucio’s statement ends by being very complementary of Bikram and says that Bikram does deserve the “material rewards” for his work.

“Bikram is flourishing,” the statement concludes. “His network of franchised studios is growing. I have no interest in undermining his business or thwarting his vision. I only ask that he respect mine.”

A link to Bikram’s lawsuit is here.

Posted by Steve

Yoga to the People plan answer to Bikram in minutes, promises news that ‘borders on historic’

Apparently, a little glitch in the electronic filing of Yoga to the People’s response to the lawsuit from Bikram means it will happen around 4 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Friday.

That’s more or less 12 midnight according to this blog’s clock.

Here are two recent posts from YTTP’s Facebook page:

From this morning:

Today is a significant day in our commitment to keeping yoga in the hands of all people. In 4-5 hours we will file our answer with the courts in regards to the lawsuit filed against us by Bikram Choudhury. With and within in our answer is news that will effect the entire yoga community. The news borders on historic. I have always said this issue was bigger than yoga to the people, bigger than bikram or bikram yoga. on that front, you will be able to celebrate in your hearts. stay tuned on twitter and facebook. thank you for all of the emails, signatures and for keeping this conversation of sacred traditional knowledge alive.


And now, from a few minutes ago:

“Update: Delay in the electronic filing… answer and historic news approximately 1 hour away!”

That gives you time to check out this story from Freakonomics on the YTTP vs. Bikram issue. It suggests Bikram doesn’t have a lot to stand on if someone alters the sequence of poses. Plus there’s this: It says if Bikram’s claims of health benefits from his sequence are true, that may make a copyright totally irrelevant. A patent would be in order.

Wow. Stay tuned. Surely this can’t be over-hyped, can it?

Posted by Steve

Something about to break on the Bikram-Yoga to the People lawsuit?

Is something about to break on the Yoga to the People versus Bikram lawsuit? This from an hour ago on the YTTP Facebook page:

Yoga To The People
You will often hear people say, “we have won the battle, but we have not won the war!”
I say to you today, the war has now been won. All that is left is the battle. Let me encourage you to celebrate without knowing exactly why. I am rejoicing inside.
greg – yttp
details to follow soon…

We’ll see. It’s hard to imagine what else he could be referring to, right?

Posted by Steve

A little more on the Bikram-YTTP lawsuit, from the horse’s mouth

That horse’s mouth reference will make sense in a second.

As we noted earlier, Bikram has filed another of his lawsuits charging someone with copying his copyrighted series of poses. It seems that, typically, these suits get settled.

This time, it is seeming like Bikram maybe picked on the wrong guy. And that’s strange, since the two know each other well.

The defendant this time is Yoga to the People and Gregory Gumucio, its owner. Gumucio was a long-time close associate of Bikram. He’s vowed to fight the lawsuit. Supposedly he will drop a response to the lawsuit this week, but before that happens he has taken to the next best thing: Facebook.

A few days ago, the YTTP’s Facebook page posted this:

Question: “if u honestly and truly feel this way then why do u hang a photo of bikram in your schools?”
Answer: “you know, i appreciate this question. it is a fair and good question not an accusation.

first, there aren’t photos in every school. there is a photo in the one school you must be referring to on 27th street.

i hung that when we first opened. i trained and i am a certified bikram teacher. i ran his training for 4 plus years. bikram rarely would be found in a “regular” class he often preferred the advance series class. however, bikram and i were very close and he loved taking my class. we were dear friends actually. i would stay at his home, he would come and stay at my home. the photo is one of endearment for me. he was my worst student, drinking water, telling jokes, we had fun.

i have no problem with bikram the person. i still have a tremendous amount of affection for him. however, as the site states, i don’t believe anyone should own a sequence of yoga. not even bikram. most almost all people have no idea who bikram is, or what he looks like. you obviously do. that photo is heartfelt. it isn’t meant as some subversive statement. if it in someway offended you. it wasn’t intended to do so.

for the record. i hate this lawsuit. i don’t relish or take an ounce of pleasure in it. i reached out to bikram personally to speak with him before letting matters get carried away. his lawyers advised him against it.

i haven’t thought of that photo for awhile. it saddens me to think of it in this moment.

be peace, be love,

And then just within the past day, this got added:
During the years I spent with Bikram, he had a series of sayings and Indian idioms. They were often thought provoking and over time the moral, truth or meaning behind the idiom or saying would come to light. A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a group of students that there was one story I never really understood. For 14 years I never understood it, until the lawsuit… and now it’s meaning is “crystal clear”.

Bikram would say, “In your country you have a saying: ‘You can lead the horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.’ No…NO!…you got it all wrong! I say I lead the horse to water, if he does not drink, I cut his f**king head off!” And then he would laugh and laugh, and say, “That is MY way!”


It is pretty clear the latest post speaks of the direction the lawsuit is headed — and it isn’t toward a peaceful resolution.

YTTP has an online petition, too: Can yoga be owned? Check the link here.

As a reminder, I’m keeping tabs of this because I think if it does go to trial, it could have legal ramifications for yoga here in America: around issues clearly of “who owns yoga?” and Bikram specifically, but also issues of various authorizations and teacher training credentials and other ideas of “legitimacy.”

Yoga may be facing some growing pains.

Posted by Steve

Yoga to the People vows to fight Bikram lawsuit

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to aummmm-ble!

Greg Gumucio, via the Daily News

We mentioned last week that Bikram had sued New York studio chain Yoga to the People for copyright infringement; it’s something Bikram has done before. Our reaction was to wonder about how Bikram’s officially licensed yoga differs from Guruji’s not officially but still very lineage-driven Ashtanga.

Well, in the service of keeping you informed of yoga news, we have to follow the story. Because while Bikram suing someone might not be “news” — sort of dog bites man — someone vowing to fight said lawsuit is a bit more unusual.

And that’s just what Greg Gumucio says he will do. The story is at the New York Daily News. Before giving you a few tidbits, I have to note a few words from the headline: “traditional hot yoga.” Is there such a thing? Anyway… on to the m(e)at and po(tatoe)ses of the story:

Gumucio vows he won’t back down after Choudhury sued him in September, claiming his eight-studio chain is ripping off the sweat-lodge-style yoga philosophy that underpins the uber -popular Bikram Yoga empire.

Gumucio said he’ll file a sharply worded answer to the Los Angeles lawsuit this week, in a bid at defiance designed to shake Choudhury out of his tree pose.

“This is so ludicrous!” Gumucio seethed. “What if the people who first originated these yoga poses claimed ownership and prevented people from teaching? It’s just crazy to me.”

Gumucio, a former Choudhury disciple and 1996 graduate of the famed Bikram Yoga instructor school, said his firm’s “Traditional Hot Yoga” class is perfectly legal.

The key legal debate appears to revolve around whether Bikram’s yoga sequence is more “cookbook” — which generally one could copyright — or a recipe, or series of recipes, which can’t be so easily claimed. Well, from Gumucio’s point of view, anyway. Bikram’s lawyer describes the sequence as more akin to a series of dance moves in a musical, which could be copyrighted.

Two other similar lawsuits are pending, the Daily News mentions. Bikram typically has settled them.

This time, that might not happen. Gumucio sounds like he is digging in his downward-facing dog heels:

Gumucio said his stance is about principle — and it would be easier to change two moves in the routine and move on.

“But I’m being compelled by something much bigger. I can’t imagine someone having sole discretion over who can and can’t teach yoga,” he said.

“I would quit teaching hot yoga tomorrow if Bikram said he understood he doesn’t own the sequence . He used to tell me, verbatim: ‘I ’m teaching exactly what my guru taught me. ’ ”

So, will we get a big legal debate about “who owns yoga” or “what yoga is”? We … could. To go all dramatic, this could be a big, big deal in the yoga world. And that’s why we bring it to you.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Steve

What if Guruji had patented his Ashtanga series?

There’s a story happening in New York City that I was going to leave alone because it really doesn’t impact Ashtanga all that much.

Or so I thought.

If you haven’t seen, Bikram has sued another yoga studio for allegedly ripping off his patented (that’s the important word) style and sequence of yoga poses.

Here’s a rundown.

I’m going to assume you know who Bikram is and that he does have a copyright on his set of yoga poses. It’s one reason why Bikram yoga is different from just hot yoga.

I also assume you know that Bikram hasn’t been afraid to aggressively fight for his rights under the law.

Aside from the debate about yoga vs. just asana, Bikram’s patent might be the most contentious topic in American yoga. (OK, maybe the debate about how much yoga owes to Hinduism is one of the top two. But Bikram’s in the top three.)

As I wrote, I had been leaving this story alone, but then I read through the unusually high number of comments on YogaDork’s piece on it, and one of them struck a major chord: “If Sri K. Pattabhi Joi [sic] would copyright [sic] his ashtanga sequence you would have to [pay him royalties, ala to Bikram].”

Think about that for a second. One of the key draws to (most) Ashtanga studios is a claim to authenticity, best personified by the teachers’ having authorizations from Mysore or, even better, certifications. To get them, of course, requires time and some amount of money — it seems like how much has changed over the years. (I’m talking pure logistics, and not the deeper commitment, understanding and competency of authorized or certified teachers.)

But, as far as I know, beyond some rules about returning to Mysore regularly, that’s as far as it goes. (I’m happy to hear more details if anyone has it and wants to share.)

What I do know is that there is no trademark to “Ashtanga Yoga.” Given Patanjali, it probably would be tough to get. As a result, you can find studios all over that offer Ashtanga classes, even Mysore variety ones, with little to no direct connection to Guruji or Mysore.

A question is: Is that OK?

I’m sure answers will vary widely. What I do know is that for me, an attraction of the practice — especially as I’ve learned it mainly through Tim Miller and Jörgen Christiansson — is the clear lineage back to Guruji. I appreciate that connection, and that as a result I’m not just doing a flow sequence each morning.

To put it in the context of Bikram, I pretty much feel like I’m practicing a “patented” form of yoga; it’s just not “patented” in the sense of the legal meaning.

If it were, though, I wonder how I’d feel. I know Bikram’s business practice turns me off, for all the usual and stereotypical reasons. Would I be similarly put off by an officially “patented” Ashtanga?


Why, though? I’m really not sure. I think, other than whatever piece of paper Bikram has his patent on, we’re talking two pretty similar “yogas” here. It’s an apples to apples, not apples to oranges, comparison. Could my reaction really just be based on the idea that “yoga should be free?” I guess.

Anyone want to join me and start an “Occupy Bikram” movement?

Posted by Steve