Yogi battle heats up over hot yoga

Yoga king Bikram Choudhury is trying to make the founder of East Village-based Yoga to the People sweat with a federal lawsuit — but Greg Gumucio is stepping to the mat.

Gumucio vows he won’t back down after Choudhury sued him in September, claiming his eight-studio chain is ripping off the sweat-lodge-style yoga philosophy that underpins the uber -popular Bikram Yoga empire.

Gumucio said he’ll file a sharply worded answer to the Los Angeles lawsuit this week, in a bid at defiance designed to shake Choudhury out of his tree pose.

“This is so ludicrous” Gumucio seethed. “What if the people who first originated these yoga poses claimed ownership and prevented people from teaching? It’s just crazy to me.”

Gumucio, a former Choudhury disciple and 1996 graduate of the famed Bikram
Yoga instructor school, said his firm’s “Traditional Hot Yoga” class is perfectly legal.

He said that he is careful not to trade off Choudhury’s name. The class features the same 26-pose sequence popularized by Choudhury, Gumucio admits, but he and his lawyers
say that one can’t copyright a workout sequence — or the setting of a thermostat to 105 degrees.

“The copyright statute expressly forbids copyrights for systems and methods of operation. It excludes recipes, sporting events, games and business methods,” said Yoga to the People lawyer and Harvard Law professor William Fisher.

“If you write a cookbook with descriptions of how lovely something tastes and how it’s suitable for certain parties, you can copyright that language, but you can’t copyright the recipes.”

But Team Choudhury is striking a far different pose.

“This 26-pose sequence already has a copyright,” Choudhury’s lawyer Robert Gilchrest shot back. “It’s like a series of dance steps; like the choreography in a musical. And musicals are copyrighted.”

Gilchrest said likening Bikram Yoga to a musical and not a sporting event doesn’t detract from its therapeutic benefits. “Soothing music can be used for its calming effect. That doesn’t render it any less of an art form,” he argued.

Choudhury has settled similar copycat lawsuits in the past, and two others are pending.

Gumucio said his stance is about principle — and it would be easier to change two moves in the routine and move on.

“But I’m being compelled by something much bigger. I can’t imagine someone having sole discretion over who can and can’t teach yoga,” he said.

“I would quit teaching hot yoga tomorrow if Bikram said he understood he doesn’t own the sequence . He used to tell me, verbatim: ‘I ‘m teaching exactly what my guru taught me. ‘ “

ndillon@nydailynews.com

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