Controversial Bikram Yoga Guru Likes the Heat

Although Bikram was among the first to recognize yoga's potential as a cash cow, others also saw its enormous business potential. Last year, Bikram sued a former protégé Greg Gumucio, who founded a rival yoga studio called Yoga to the People, alleging copyright infringement. Both men spoke with "Nightline."

"Here you have this traditional knowledge that's been around for 5,000 years, and there was kind of a run on the bank," Gumucio told "Nightline." "It's kind of like if Arnold Schwarzenegger said I'm going to do five bench presses, six curls, seven squats, call it 'Arnold's Work' and nobody can show that or teach that without my permission. That's crazy to me."

But Bikram calls Gumucio a thief. "He was my student, I trained him" he said. "Then he got greedy, so he has to be stopped."

Gumucio, whose has studio locations in New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif., countersued, claiming that Bikram had no business copyrighting yoga to begin with.

The U.S. Copyright Office appeared receptive to Gumucio's argument. The Copyright Office issued a position statement summarizing its interpretation of the law, saying, "The Copyright Office takes the position that a selection, coordination or arrangement of functional physical movements such as sports movements, exercises and other ordinary motor activities alone do not represent the type of authorship intended to be protected under the copyright law."

After our interviews, but before the case went to trial, the two men reached a settlement. Gumucio agreed to stop teaching Bikram's sequence of 26 poses. Bikram agreed to drop the lawsuit.

In a two-page open letter posted to the Yoga to the People website, Gumucio explained his decision to settle.

"I no longer felt the need to be entangled in the Bikram battle," he wrote. "I feel complete in the job I set for myself, which was to free yoga from the destructive threat of copyright custody and ownership. What becomes of the 26 posture sequence commonly known as Bikram Yoga, and Bikram's uninformed copyright claim to it, is now in the hands of the studio owners and teachers who practice it. I have decided it's time for a new journey and a continuation of YTTP's commitment to make yoga accessible to everyone."

Last month, another yoga school run by former Bikram students convinced a judge that Bikram's sequence of poses was "not copyrightable." The judge ruled that Evolation Yoga "cannot be held liable for copyright infringement" for teaching the technique.

Bikram's lawyers have appealed the ruling.

But Bikram and his legal team now have yet another case looming.

In 2010, Pandhora Williams spent about $11,000 to attend Bikram's intensive teacher training course in San Diego. She claims she was offended by portions of what she said Bikram said in his "dialogue," the banter that helps distract students through 90 minutes of body-bending poses. She claims that during class, Bikram made derogatory comments about women and homosexuals, saying, "Women are bitches and whores. They're here for one thing, and that's to make babies."

After completing seven weeks of the nine-week course, Pandhora said she confronted Bikram.

"I walked up to him, and I said 'Bikram, You're breaking my heart.' That's what I said to him. 'Why are you preaching hate when there's already so much hatred in the world?'" said Williams, who claimed his response to her was, "'We don't sell love here, you f**king black bitch. Get out.'"

Bikram declined "Nightline" requests to talk about the case, but ABC News obtained video and transcripts of his deposition in which Bikram denied making hateful comments and claimed Williams approached him in a way that made him feel threatened for his health and safety.

"I'm the most successful man in the world," he said. "It will keep going like this way as long as I live. If some sick crazy person think what I am it's their problem. It's not my problem. I'll still continue keep doing it."

Williams is now suing Bikram for unspecified damages. The case is scheduled to go to trial in March.

"He should not be allowed to spew so much hatred in his society and hide behind yoga, which is so beautiful and so pure," Williams said.

But Bikram rejects Williams' characterizations.

"I never lie, never cheat, I never hurt another spirit," he said. "I'm the most spiritual man you will ever meet in your life."

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