Can Yoga Be Owned?

Dec 29, 2011   //   by Staff Writer   //   The Blog  //  4 Comments

Bikram Choudhury, creator of Bikram Yoga, has sued Yoga to the People of NYC and Evolation Yoga of Buffalo, NY for using his pose sequence to offer Bikram style classes. Yoga to the People is a group of studios similar to Yoga District. They offer a wide variety of classes at their five New York studios for a $10 “suggested donation.” In New York, where most classes cost upwards of $20 each–this a unique and valuable model to reach all people through yoga.

Bikram Choudhury Teaching YogaBikram's sequence is a 90-minute class with a scripted dialogue to guide students through 26 postures, each completed twice in 105 degree heat. Having practiced Bikram yoga at Evolation Yoga in Buffalo, I can say its a worthwhile practice for a certain type of yogi. Bikram yoga is not for everyone. It's an intense form of exercise that involves pushing your body to extremes for health benefits.

The United States copyright Office has decided that yoga poses are “exercise” and not “choreography” and thus cannnot be copyrighted. They are instead public domain. The chief of the Copyright Office's Performing Arts division said that exercises like yoga “do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect as choreography. We will not register such exercises (including yoga movements), whether described as exercises or as selection and ordering of movements.”

Bikram Yoga lawyer Robert Gilchrest countered that the Copyright Office has in the past issued copyrights for exercise videos. “But now they’re saying they’re looking at it again and they’ve changed their mind?” Gilchrest said. “It is meaningless to this litigation.”

Greg Gumicio, owner of Yoga to the People said, “I very much regret that Bikram has brought this lawsuit. He was my teacher. I continue to respect him and to honor his accomplishments. He has done more than perhaps anyone else to inform people — in the United States and the world — of the benefits of yoga. The particular style of yoga he has popularized has improved the health of countless practitioners. Arguably, Bikram deserves the material rewards that these accomplishments have already brought him.”

Gumicio has created an online petition for people who believe yoga should not be copyrighted or privatized. Can someone “own” yoga? What do you think?

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4 Comments

  • this is a great post – thanks for informing us. i’m not a huge fan of the bikram practice (rooted too much in the physical) and the more i read about him the more of a paradox he seems.

    http://www.details.com/culture-trends/critical-eye/201102/yoga-guru-bikram-choudhury?currentPage=1
    http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/328?page=2

    not sure he jives with my understanding of yoga.

  • Yoga is the greatest gift I have ever received. The best part of it, was discovering that I had it in me the whole time, and just need guidance to practice and share it with others. This sharing is what makes it so incredible, so humane, and so complete.

    When I made the decision to join a studio, I chose Yoga District not only because of it’s convenience, and affordability but because of its core purpose – to bring yoga into communities of those who may not have access to it, and may not be able to afford it. This to me gets to the core of what yoga is supposed to be and why I love YD. Mr. Choudhury has seemed to forgotten or may not have the same understanding of this – and that brings me sadness.

    This isn’t the first time, I’ve heard about this issue. I’ve even signed the petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/can-yoga-be-owned. The question of whether or not “Yoga can be owned”, makes me wonder what the living gurus like Dharma, and the great Swamis of the early 20th century, who sent their students to the west to raise awareness and teach Yoga, would think…

    Free Love. Free Yoga.

  • I am glad to see that the U.S. Copyright Office has decided to keep the sequence that Bikram put together as “public domain”. He does not own the poses as they were developed thousands of years ago. It seems Mr. Bikram has lost sight of what the practice of yoga is truly about– Minimizing EGO. When we get to the mat, it is a level field, there is no win or race but a sacred space to heal ourselves, improve our SELF. It is nice to have Yoga communities like Yoga District or Guerilla Yoga Project in Charlottesville to bring yoga to the masses and at-risk populations.

    The biggest misconception people have about yoga is they think it is for white, skinny girls who have an expendable income.

  • Thank you for this post. I am a yogi who has done many types of yoga and I enjoy Bikram yoga very much. Right now it constitutes the majority of my yoga practice, though I often enjoy flow classes at Yoga District as well.

    I love YD for its core purpose and mission of providing yoga to those who often are excluded from the other yoga studios. Unfortunately it seems that among yogis people can get very territorial about their yoga practice, about their style of yoga, and if one is “better” or more “real.” I love the rigor and intensity of Bikram and find that it brings about a different, but wonderful spiritual dimension to my practice. Though I personally benefit from Bikram and obviously respect the practice, it does make me sad that Mr. Choudhury has become so attached to his own rights to the yoga and sometimes contributes to the negative image that many yogis have of Bikram.

    I sincerely appreciate the loving stances of YD and (it seems) Yoga to the People of embracing different types of yoga and seeking to decrease the divisions, rather than increase division among yogis. I think many people having a negative attitude towards Bikram because they perceive a condescension and arrogance from the founder, and apply that to the practitioners, however that has never been my experience and in fact I have received a good amount of condescension from other (non-Bikram) yogis at other studios when they hear that I practice Bikram.

    Hope this can get resolved and that yoga will evolve into a more open practice that more people can access.

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