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When McAfee opened the door, he offered Gumucio a place to stay before even asking his identity. The two immediately clicked, and they talked for ten hours, wandering the estate and discussing McAfee's work. For the past fifteen years, he had been studying the kripalu method of yoga, a practice that focuses on self-discovery and spiritual realization; the books sitting beneath Gumucio's desk were full of McAfee's meditations on how yoga can lead to a better, enlightened life. But it was not yoga that had made McAfee wealthy. Rather, it was the software company he'd founded that bears his name. McAfee anti-virus software was the first-ever virus scan created to protect computers, and by 1994, he was worth nearly half a billion dollars because of it. He'd sold the company two years before meeting Gumucio, though, and had focused his energy on yoga. McAfee considered himself the founder of "relational yoga" and ran yoga retreats at his Colorado estate. Along with his books, he had produced DVDs by the same title, which taught his students how to combat the "human condition" of fear and uncertainty through self-understanding, which he believed to be the overlooked core of yoga.

McAfee invited Gumucio to teach at a retreat, where he spent 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. "He taught many things," Gumucio says today. "Really, he is a genius, and brilliant."

Like Bikram, McAfee was not a surprising mentor to catch Gumucio's attention: He was full of the ingenuity that launches empires and fortunes, with eccentricity to match. But as Gumucio worked with him, "that's when things started to go south" with Bikram, Gumucio recalls.

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."
courtesy of Bikram Choudhury
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."
Greg Gumucio's Yoga to the People studios pose a financial threat to Choudhury's: "The price point is lower, so we get a bigger volume."
Kevin P. Casey
Greg Gumucio's Yoga to the People studios pose a financial threat to Choudhury's: "The price point is lower, so we get a bigger volume."

(Ultimately, McAfee himself went south — literally. He soon was seeking self-enlightenment not just through yoga, but through extreme sports, including racing ATVs and motorcycles and jet-skiing. In 2002, McAfee began studying aero-trekking, a form of low-flying aviation along the dessert; he and a gang of "Sky Gypsies" collected vintage aviation equipment and spent their days piloting through low altitudes. But in 2010, the New York Times reported that McAfee was selling all five of his estates in this country — he, like many others, had apparently been hit hard by the recession — at an estimated $96 million loss. McAfee moved on to Belize, where, with the help of a thirty-year-old research assistant, he began studying indigenous herbs for a new form of antibiotics, not to mention a female aphrodisiac: Think Viagra for women. "You find self-awareness by breaking boundaries, breaking taboos," McAfee told Fast Company.)

While Gumucio was incorporating McAfee's techniques in his own yoga practice, Bikram felt a sting of betrayal at seeing his protegé take on a new mentor. "He said, 'You cannot be a fucking prostitute. You cannot have your feet in two holes,'" Gumucio recalls.

At the same time, other students had begun to rebel against Bikram. They formed Open Source Yoga Unity (OSYU) "to get out from under his brain," says Gumucio. For a $500 membership fee, teachers of hot yoga could join OSYU anonymously, in the process gaining an advocate that would help them "teach yoga freely."

In 2005, the group sued Bikram for sending its members cease-and-desist letters, only to lose the case. Though the settlement remains confidential, California U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton granted Bikram a summary judgment, agreeing that OSYU had violated his copyright. (OSYU declined comment for this story.)

Gumucio was invited to join OSYU, but passed. His life had once again taken a new turn.

When his girlfriend got a job in New York, he sold his Seattle studios and followed her east to start a family. He also severed his relationship with Bikram.

Gumucio removed himself from the yoga world until 2006, when he rented a small space in Manhattan and began teaching a donation-based class each Sunday. His role model at the time was Bryan Kest, who'd launched donation-based power yoga studios in Santa Monica and believes in making yoga accessible to everyone.

Gumucio's first class had just ten students. By the third Sunday, so many people showed up they couldn't all fit in one room.

Yoga to the People was born. Over the next six years, Gumucio opened five studios in New York and expanded to Seattle, San Francisco and Berkeley.

"Yoga studios make pretty damn good money," says Gumucio. "What I did with the $8 yoga, you just get more people...so it's math. The price point is lower, so we get a bigger volume."

But it wasn't just price that allowed Gumucio to gain so much ground on his mentor. If Bikram's theory was based on rigidity and obedience to an ultimate authority figure, Gumucio took the opposite approach, branding his studios with an everyman's populism.

Gumucio's mission statement: "There will be no right answers. No glorified teachers. No ego, no script, no pedestals. No 'You're not good enough or rich enough.' This yoga is for everyone."

"Yogis can be very elitist and give you attitude at the front desk when you walk in," says Ted Caine, who has taught at YTTP for four years. "I hate that, the 'We are better people because we do yoga.' I think that's dumb."

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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 editortopcommenter

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

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

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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