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There are now more than 330 studios in America — 600 worldwide — with the greatest concentration in California, where Bikram yoga is offered at 86 separate locations.

Over the years, a handful of former students have attempted to set up unaffiliated studios. Bikram successfully sued a few of them. But none of these insurrections have been as big, painful or lengthy as his current battle with Gumucio, his former favorite student.

The various suits have sent a palpable chill through the world of hot yoga, considered the largest and fastest-growing segment of the field. Bikram claims that 35 million Americans practiced his brand of yoga last year alone.

New York Bikram studio owner Tricia Donegan claims Choudhury is "not copyrighting to make money. He just wants everyone to do his product the right way, because it is the right way."
Sara Kerens
New York Bikram studio owner Tricia Donegan claims Choudhury is "not copyrighting to make money. He just wants everyone to do his product the right way, because it is the right way."

A Pupil Challenges His Master

Like his former mentor, Gumucio has dark, shoulder-length hair, though his flows in luscious waves. Heavy eyebrows and a large Roman nose accent a ruddy, usually unshaven face. If Bikram seems like the Energizer bunny, a constant stream of nervous energy, Gumucio is his counterpart, exuding a slow, cavalier confidence.

They first met in Los Angeles in 1996. Gumucio had quit his job as a Seattle radio announcer and moved to L.A., somewhat on a whim. He'd taken only three Bikram classes when his sister convinced him to enroll with her in the teacher training program.

That first day, he attempted to stand in the half-moon pose, his feet together, arms pressed tight overhead, torso stretched to the right. Ideally, the body curves into an upside-down L shape, which requires the sides of the body to stretch further than feels humanly possible and leaves one's abdomen shaking. Yet the novice strained to tilt more than a few inches to the side. As his eyes focused on his posture in the mirror, Gumucio says, Bikram approached him from behind.

"What the hell are you doing here?" the teacher asked quietly.

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," Bikram said, giving him a look of slight disgust before moving on. "So 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."

To the uninitiated, a Bikram class can seem like a cult. It's not uncommon to see girls brush the guru's hair or massage his body as he lectures, as if he were a deity.

One day, while struggling through class, Gumucio says, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He signaled to one of the girls that he wanted to take over. "I decided to massage the evil villain in my life," he recalls, laughing. According to Gumucio, Bikram was impressed.

"From that day forward he was nice to me," says Gumucio. "But I had to pay a different kind of, you know, penalty. Because then he made me massage him, like, every single day for, like, four hours a day. I would be dripping with sweat all over, just from working on this crazy man."

All that fawning worked. By the end of Gumucio's training, the men had formed a close friendship. Six months later, says Gumucio, Bikram trusted him to return to Los Angeles to run his world headquarters studio and stay in his home, while Bikram and his family went to India on vacation

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. "He was my good student."

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 would go on to open four studios in Seattle, but none were called "Bikram Yoga." Instead, he used generic names like "Yoga Fitness." The field had yet to see the popularity it has today, and Gumucio believed that greater success could be had by appealing to a wider, more athletic audience than the "new-age, tree-hugging" type Bikram attracted.

Yet their friendship began to strain in 2000. Greg Gumucio had been teaching Bikram yoga for five years when a large cardboard box showed up unsolicited at his studio. Inside were stacks of thin yellow books titled The Secret to the Yamas: A Spiritual Guide to Yoga. Pictured on the back cover was a man with wild hair and sunburned cheeks, a goatee framing his mouth. "God, this guy looks just like the devil," Gumucio remembers thinking before pushing the crate below his desk and forgetting about it. The next month, however, a new crate of books arrived, this time with a different title but the same devil character on the back. His name was John McAfee.

Gumucio continued to ignore the packages — and McAfee — until a few weeks later, when his brother called him from a yoga retreat in Colorado. His brother had decided to participate in a kriya yoga breath workshop, run by none other than John McAfee, the suntanned and devil-bearded yogi. That was enough of a coincidence to send Gumucio to Woodland Park, Colorado, where he found an enormous Tuscan-style estate tucked into 280 acres of rocks and pine trees.

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7 comments
kantorr
kantorr

Bikram drives rolls-royce, wears rollex lol...this guy is suing people because they want to help others for a few less bucks then he does...wow what a scumbag.  Yoga should never be about money...i dont even know where to start with this...all that really matters is that this guys is a money hungry entrepreneur and in it for himself so he can continue his lifestyle of luxury, he doesnt care about anyone's well being besides his own clearly.  As someone who has been practicing yoga for self-healing this makes me sick.  Hope this guy looses this case and people still have the choice to practice where and how they wish.

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator topcommentereditor

sorry about the disappearing comments. we switched commenting systems yesterday; they should reappear soon.

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator topcommentereditor

I'd like to use some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with your full name. Let me know if that's okay at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Tangible666
Tangible666

What happened to all of the comments that were up here?

Yachna
Yachna

If you read any of the ancient yoga texts, it says Yoga should be practiced in the early cool hours and not in the sun as practicing yoga increases the internal heat of the body. This is a prime example of commercialization of an ancient old practice for one's own financial gain. This Bikram guy is in it for the money. He is not a true yogi

Yachna
Yachna

If you read any of the ancient yoga texts, it says Yoga should be practiced in the early cool hours and not in the sun as practicing yoga increases the internal heat of the body. This is a prime example of commercialization of an ancient old practice for one's own financial gain. This Bikram guy is in it for the money. He is not a true yogi.

davis Heiskell
davis Heiskell

In a large Chinese banquet hall in Boston hung with open-mouthed dragons and bulbous red lanterns, the hot yogis have taken over. Seventy yoga teachers are sprawled between the tables. Property Preservation Services

 
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