The guru to the stars who is tying the yoga world in knots

Copy these moves and I'll sue, says top yogi. By Andrew Buncombe

Bikram Choudhury likes to get people hot and bothered and he likes to get them in a twist.

The yoga guru, who lists Madonna, Raquel Welch and Serena Williams among his celebrity followers, is also hugely protective of his famous and controversial style. Anyone thinking of adding, altering or in any way changing his 26 copyrighted and trademarked postures - each to be performed twice in a heated room - has received a "cease and desist" letter from his lawyers.

The letter is curt and pointed: if a yoga teacher has not attended a $5,000-per-person training programme and is not paying a studio franchise fee, he or she should not be teaching "Bikram" yoga. The letter threatens penalties of $150,000 for any infringement.

But now the yoga teachers are hitting back and a federal lawsuit has been filed against Mr Choudhury claiming yoga is a 5,000-year-old tradition that cannot be owned. And if Mr Choudhury doesn't like it? Well, say the enthusiasts, he's flexible enough to know where to shove it.

Elizabeth Rader, a copyright lawyer and a fellow at Stanford University, is representing the group Open Source Yoga Unity. She said: "We're not disputing that Mr Choudhury did something creative and useful in putting the postures together in a certain order. Our belief is that you can't treat the poses as private property. Right now, people are trying to teach yoga but are not sure what is going to get them sued."

The growth of Mr Choudhury's form of yoga has been phenomenal. Since he arrived in the US from India in 1971 his yoga has developed a cult-like following. He claims that he is opening two new studios every day and that worldwide he has more than 800 schools in 220 countries, including Britain. He is estimated to be worth $7m. His yoga's success has been aided by its popularity among celebrities such as Raquel Welch, who ironically also fell foul of Mr Choudhury's lawyers when she published a book on yoga.

Mr Choudhury, 57, is quite blunt about his decision to go after those teachers he believes are infringing his copyright. He told Business 2.0 magazine: "I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me."

The guru claims that his yoga - ideally performed in mirrored rooms at a temperature of 105F (40C) - can cure everything from heart disease to hepatitis C. And he claims that he has no alternative but to protect his livelihood. "I'm not happy about it," he recently told reporters. "When I first came here I never charged a dime. But my students said, 'You have to charge something or else nobody will believe you know something.'"

There are plenty who think Mr Choudhury is not only going too far but also has lost sight of what yoga is supposed to be about. Mark and Kim Morrison, who opened a small yoga studio in northern California and invested more than $100,000 in the project, were last year sued by Mr Choudhury's lawyers. Although they had planned to fight the action, their insurance company opted to settle out of court for an undisclosed sum. Mr Morrison said yesterday: "In his book he talks about how his guru told him to go to America and teach yoga. That is what we are doing and he is trying to stop us."

The Morrisons no longer advertise themselves as practitioners of Bikram yoga, which they say was restricted to a list of postures including the half moon pose (figure 2), the eagle (4), the triangle (9), the tree (11), the cobra (16), the half tortoise (21) and the rabbit (23).

Mr Morrison said: "We would have students saying, 'Do you have anything other than these 26 postures', and we'd tell them that actually, yes, there was a lot more."

Others support the guru. Lynn Whitlow, who teaches Bikram yoga in San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle: "His desire is not to police yoga but to maintain the purity of his teaching. People who are suing him over this take his class to teach his yoga, and then decide they want to change the yoga. If you want to change it, do it, but don't call it Bikram yoga. It's like Starbucks. You go in knowing what you want."

No one from Mr Choudhury's headquarters in Los Angeles was available for comment yesterday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect