Bikram Master in Court Battle Over Yoga Positions
Fri Feb 6,11:03 AM ET
By Elinor Mills Abreu
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Yoga master Bikram Choudhury is bent out of
The eccentric Calcutta-born yogi who popularized the form of yoga
known as "Bikram" is being sued over his claims that he owns the
copyright to a 26-posture series used in the practice, which is done
in a heated room.
The suit could eventually set a precedent in an industry noted for
its openness and lack of standards. For now, it is kicking up a fuss
among yoga practitioners.
Bikram is a fast-growing yoga style made trendy by celebrities and
others attracted to its health benefits and spiritual leanings.
Choudhury, who is in his late 50s, has sent cease and desist letters
to more than 100 Bikram yoga schools and teachers, accusing them of
violating his copyright and trademark by employing instructors that
weren't trained by him and deviating from his strict teachings,
according to James Harrison, a lawyer for the Open Source Yoga Unity.
In response, the Open Source Yoga Unity, a non-profit collective
whose members live in California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Rhode
Island and Canada, has sued the Choudhury in San Francisco federal
The suit asks the court to rule that his copyright and trademark
claims are unenforceable because his series of poses stem from
postures that have been in public use for centuries.
"No one can own a style of yoga," Harrison told Reuters on Thursday.
Choudhury was preparing for a trip and unable to comment, according
to a receptionist at his Los Angeles yoga school. One of his
attorneys declined to comment and another did not return a phone
Lawyers for the two sides met in a court-ordered mediation conference
on Wednesday but did not reach a settlement, Harrison said. A trial
is scheduled for February 2005.
While some Bikram instructors have been forced to stop teaching the
technique, others remain loyal to their yogi.
"All he is asking is that they teach (Bikram yoga) honestly and
purely, and that's not too much to ask," said Lynn Whitlow, co-owner
of Funky Door Yoga in the bay area. "If you want to change it, don't
call it 'Bikram.'"
Nora Isaacs, a senior editor at Berkeley-based Yoga Journal, said her
group wasn't taking an official stance.
"If he does win, the question is what does that mean for the future
of yoga?" Isaacs said. "If he asserts copyright, will other schools
Choudhury has become rich selling books and videos, teaching
workshops that cost $5,000 and collecting franchise fees from the
hundreds of studios worldwide that teach Bikram yoga.