NYC Yoga War: Cheap Trumps Tradition

In some of New York City’s sweatiest, most spiritually centered places, a rivalry rages on. Yoga to the People and Bikram Yoga may have decided to settle their copyright dispute out of court, but it’s not likely to alter their dynamic in an overcrowded market.

The guru Bikram Choudhury had accused his former student and YTTP founder Greg Gumucio in a federal lawsuit of ripping off poses he’d popularized, claiming intellectual property rights despite traditions dating back thousands of years. Last week, the two sides came to an agreement, with Gumucio opting to switch up his high-temperature classes, even though the Copyright Office initially sided with him. “The idea is to create something new,” he told the New York Times, but not too new, adding that he’d still use a heated room and some of Choudhury’s poses. Not that the city’s casual yogagoers care anyway.

Yoga to the People is the only place I do Bikram,” said Lou, a young student, after a YTTP class in Chelsea last night, pulling on a gingham button-down over his sweaty undershirt. “It’s not like it’s some sacred, you know, perfect sequence. I think you could tweak it enough to not piss him off and still have something that is still serviceable.”

According to the agreement, “the sequence of twenty-six asana poses and dialogue known as Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class will, by no later than February 15, 2013, no longer be offered at Yoga to the People studios.”

I win, he lose, and that’s it,” a happy Choudhury told the Village Voice. “Nobody will ever be able to steal Bikram yoga anymore.” But as Gumucio explained to the Times, “What Bikram is missing a little bit of is some of that upper-body stuff,” and he has some slight changes in mind.

In the beginning I probably would have sworn hell or high water that I was going to see this thing through to the end,” Gumucio said. “But then I got the point where I really wasn’t liking who I had to be in it. You have to get messy.” He also may have realized that minor tweaks aren’t going to affect his business, a favorite of thrifty creative types and college kids.

When Bikram Yoga Manhattan was forced to close its Penn Station studio because of “an increasingly competitive field,” it called out Gumucio by name for offering classes “under the guise of ‘hot’ or ‘traditional’ yoga” but “without the blessing of” Choudhury. The suit that followed demanded damages of more than $1 million and an all-out stop to YTTP’s hot yoga classes, which are only $8 at six different NYC locations to Bikram’s $25 per session.

It’s a lot cheaper and less pretentious,” said Lou of YTTP. “Bikram in the city is really, uh, it gets a little hoity-toity.”

This is just like Bikram,” agreed another man on his way, except “friendlier, to be honest.”

I actually started at Bikram,” chimed in a woman named Fernanda, also fresh from YTTP class, but she switched “because of the price.”

I mean, it’s pretty much the same.” And barring further litigation, it’s poised to stay that way.

Yoga to the People Settles Lawsuit, Stays Cheap