Yoga practitioners are tying themselves in knots over a millionaire guru’s attempt to copyright a series of positions.
Bikram Choudhury, a former weightlifter based in Los Angeles, is being sued over his claim to own the copyright of a series of 26 postures used in Bikram yoga, a fast-growing style in which exercises are repeated in a studio heated to 40C (104F).
Mr Choudhury has sent letters to more than 100 Bikram yoga schools and teachers, accusing them of violating his copyright and trademark by deviating from his strict teachings and employing instructors who were not trained by him.
In response, a collective of US yoga teachers are suing Mr Choudhury in a San Francisco federal court, arguing that his copyright and trademark claims are unenforceable, because his teachings draw on postures that have been in public use for centuries.
“No one can own a style of yoga,” James Harrison, a lawyer for the collective said.
Lawyers for the two sides met in a court-ordered mediation conference last week but did not reach a settlement, and the case will go to trial next February.
Some Bikram instructors have already been forced to stop teaching the technique, but 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 studio near San Francisco.
Other aficionados fear the lawsuit could set a worrying precedent in yoga, now a multimillion dollar industry.
Mr Choudhury, born in Calcutta, invented his positions with the help of his guru after he was badly hurt in a weightlifting accident. He has become rich selling books and videos, teaching $5,000 (ï¿½2,700) workshops and collecting franchise fees from hundreds of studios worldwide.