Gumucio smiled. "Well, I'm here to do your teacher training."

Their eyes locked in the mirror, Gumucio still struggling to bend his body sideways. "Good luck," said Bikram, giving him a look of slight disgust before moving on.

"For the next eight weeks, he literally tried to kill me," Gumucio says. "I mean, maybe not literally, but he made it, like, uncomfortable, because I think he couldn't believe this guy with so little training would go to the teacher training."

Bikram Choudhury
Courtesy of Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Choudhury

Gumucio not only survived but also eventually impressed the master. Six months later, he says, Bikram asked Gumucio to run his world headquarters studio and stay in his home in Los Angeles while Bikram and his family went to India. Gumucio had been welcomed into the inner circle of one of the world's foremost yogis.

"He is a very good disciple at the beginning," Bikram would later say.

Their relationship would remain solid for the next five years. Gumucio helped with teacher training and speaking engagements. The men vacationed together and stayed in each other's homes.

Gumucio opened four studios in Seattle, but none was called "Bikram Yoga." Instead, he used more generic names like "Yoga Fitness." Gumucio instinctively knew that greater success could be had by appealing to a wider, more athletic audience than the "new-age, tree-hugging" type Bikram attracted.

Their friendship began to strain in 2000, when Gumucio met John McAfee, a software billionaire turned yoga teacher. Gumucio visited him on his estate in Colorado and the pair immediately clicked. McAfee invited Gumucio to teach at a silent retreat, which involved spending several days in nature practicing yoga in complete silence. By the time it was over, Gumucio decided he wanted to teach multiple forms of yoga, incorporating McAfee's Kriya method, which concentrates on the spine.

"That's when things started to go south," Gumucio says. Bikram was not the type who could share a student's adulation with another mentor. "He said, 'You cannot be a fucking prostitute. You cannot have your feet in two holes.'"

When his girlfriend got a job in New York, Gumucio closed his Seattle studios and followed her east. He simultaneously severed his relationship with Bikram, and was removed from the yoga world until 2006, when he rented a Manhattan room and began to teach a donation-based class each Sunday.

So began Yoga to the People. Over the next six years, he would open five studios in New York and then expand to Seattle, San Francisco, and Berkeley. Unlike traditional Bikram studios — which charge $15 to $25 — Yoga to the People charges just $8 per session. Bikram Yoga charges $25 for a single class and then offers weekly and monthly memberships with unlimited visits at $50 and $150.

"Yoga studios make pretty damn good money," Gumucio says. "It's math. The price point is lower, so we get a bigger volume."

Gumucio branded his studios with an Everyman's populism. His mission statement in part reads, "There will be no right answers. No glorified teachers... This yoga is for everyone."

In September 2011, Bikram sued Gumucio for copyright infringement.

It seems odd the feds would ever allow him to copyright a traditional teaching in the first place. Such art forms are passed through thousands of hands through the ages. Everyone's version is simply a variation of another's. It would be akin to allowing preachers to copyright a certain spin on Christianity.

The U.S. Copyright Office seemed to acknowledge that point on June 22, when deputy general counsel Robert Kasunic issued a clarification that if yoga postures improve health, they cannot be copyrighted. He added that any prior registrations of yoga copyrights were "issued in error."

But it's not quite that simple. Kasunic says his office has no plans to re-evaluate the copyrights already issued.

All of which means that Bikram and Gumucio will have to wait for a judge to settle their war when the case goes to trial sometime next year.

In the meantime, the Bikram-Gumucio beef has caused a nationwide divide, slicing the country's yoga practition­ers into two schools of thought.

Bikram's camp cites the yoga code, the belief that followers must respect the lineage and leader of the specific style of yoga they practice. If the Bikram method is allowed to be diluted, a great tradition will be lost.

Elliott, manager of the South Beach Bikram studio, says Gumucio is merely practicing a cheap facsimile of the genuine article. And that could bring about the demise of real yoga. "They think this yoga is great, but [they should] do the right thing and do the training for it," he says. "It's another person trying to make money on someone else's idea."

After 90 minutes of sweating, stretching, and contorting into downright uncomfortable-looking positions, the afternoon Bikram class winds down. The instructor claps her hands, commends students for making it through the hour and a half of heat, and bids them farewell with a phrase common to all yoga followers. "Namaste," she says, and they echo it back to her. Be well.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help

when did copywriting and capitalizing become part of the path to inner peace? i thought yoga was about meditation and serenity, it doesnt sound like that bikram guy is very serene he seems like hollywood got the best of him.


I stick with Bikram....I just love the practice

Jerome Armstrong
Jerome Armstrong

lol, what a hoot, pass the popcorn. I would do either of these, and completely ignore the politics. It just doesn't matter to the one doing the yoga. Be happy.


It's complete absurdity. Yoga should not be monopolized, as Bikram has tried to do by preventing people he has trained from sharing it with others. It would be one thing if Gumucio's studios and students were creating some dangerous series, but if you go on to their website you will see Yoga to the People is more popular than ever- and it is NOT because they are just throwing up money to open studios. It is supply and demand. John Elliot probably has never taken a class in one of Gumucio's studios. Who is he to assume the quality of them? If Gumucio formally ran Bikram's teacher training, he obviously knows what he is doing and how to create a good class.

Miami Concert Tickets