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Bikram goes to the mat

By copyrighting a sequence of yoga poses, a guru upset the discipline's harmonic balance. Now he's in court.

March 21, 2005|Hilary E. MacGregor | Times Staff Writer

"I'm not aware of anyone who has successfully done what Bikram is trying to do," said Netanel, who has discussed the case in his law classes. "Which is, through the guise of copyrighting photographs or descriptions of an exercise method, to control the practice of yoga."

Hamilton is expected to rule on the copyright issue this spring

Some of Open Source's executive board members studied with Choudhury but have since struck out on their own, creating new sequences and styles of yoga -- with a definite Bikram influence. They are among the most outspoken of his critics.

Ted Grand studied with Choudhury in 1999 and started four Bikram studios in Canada. Grand built studios with radiant heating panels, reclaimed hardwood floors from old gyms, and nontoxic paint. "Bikram was very upset with us for not putting carpet down in the yoga room, and threatened to sue," he said.

Rather than fight, Grand came up with his own sequence of about 40 poses -- done in a hot room -- and created a small chain of studios. He called his new style Moksha Yoga.

Jimmy Barkan, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also teaches yoga based on his experience with Choudhury. He calls his classes "Hot Yoga With Jimmy Barkan" but has not changed the sign outside his studio, which reads "Yoga College of India."

"Bikram brought this style of yoga to this country, and for that I will be forever grateful," said Barkan, who says a phone call from Choudhury forbidding him to teach at certain yoga conferences and vacations prompted him to break away from the franchise. "He is extremely passionate and charismatic. And when he is on, he is extremely inspiring."

Added Barkan: "We just didn't want to be looking over our shoulders all the time. We want the freedom to be able to do whatever we want. We did not want policemen to come into the studio and say, 'This is an illegal class; you are not allowed to do this triangle at this time.' "

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