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Freedom Versus Franchising

July 07, 2002|Hilary E. MacGregor

From the moment they arrive, the class of 300 future yoga teachers is told why the franchising of Bikram Choudhury's special brand of yoga will be good for them. Details are still being hashed out, but future Bikram teachers will probably pay an initial franchising fee of several hundred dollars and a small percentage of each month's profits.

"There are people mixing Bikram yoga with God knows what," said Sara Powers, Choudhury's general manager, in a lecture to the students about franchising. "They take his yoga, throw in shoulder stands [a yoga position], light some incense, put on some music and call it Bikram yoga. You can't do that."

Bikram, she said, is not franchising so he can buy another Rolls-Royce. "Franchising will make Bikram yoga a more valuable commodity," she said.

Among potential franchisees, reaction is mixed.

"I'm sure a lot of people are like eeeewwww, franchise, it's like McDonald's," said Kate Besleme, a Bikram student from Washington, D.C., who just graduated from business school.

"But I think it is a brilliant idea. It's not only smart business, but it's good for the people who take classes, because it provides consistency."

Bill and Sandy McCauley and five of their children run a chain of yoga studios called Yoga Loka in Northern California. They offer Bikram yoga, as well as several other types. In mid-June, they received a letter from Choudhury's attorney telling them they would risk being sued if they did not either adhere to the rigid rules of the proposed franchise or stop teaching Bikram yoga.

"We are going through tremendous turmoil," said Bill McCauley. "We don't want to be involved because it gives Bikram too much control over us." McCauley is especially conflicted because he believes Bikram's system of yoga is the best. The McCauleys say they have seen students with scoliosis straighten their spines, students with diabetes cut their insulin intake in half, and some with spinal injuries become pain-free, all as a result of the Bikram method.

"He has put together the finest series of yoga that has ever been created," said McCauley, "but the way he is trying to do this is like Hitler taking over Germany."

Sandy McCauley also has misgivings. "Yoga is something that can't be owned by someone," she said. "I think that if you practice and teach yoga regularly, you start to awaken. You need to be free to act on those inspirations and not be under someone's thumb. I respect and admire what Bikram has brought to the world, in terms of a great system that has popularized yoga. Beyond that, I need to be free."

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