Magazine article The New Yorker

Steamed

Magazine article The New Yorker

Steamed

Article excerpt

A yoga virgin--yes, really--phoned Greg Gumucio, the founder of the populist franchise Yoga to the People, the other day, in search of clarity on the question of yoga's status along the sporting spectrum. That is: to what extent would you describe your favorite yoga class as mere exercise, as opposed to, say, a form of choreographed stretching approaching the level of performance art--ballet without an audience? "Give me ten seconds so I can get off the phone with my attorney," Gumucio said, and invited his caller to join him for sushi, downtown at Lure Fishbar.

Gumucio has been spending a lot of his time talking with attorneys ever since he was sued, last fall, by his former mentor Bikram Choudhury, the Dr. Phil of yogis, for copyright infringement, among other things. Yoga to the People offers "Traditional Hot Yoga" classes at a number of its New York studios for only eight dollars. Choudhury considers himself the inventor of hot yoga as we know it, or Bikram Yoga--a rigidly prescribed sequence of twenty-six postures to be endured with the thermostat set to a hundred and five degrees, for maximal sweating. Gumucio's classes use the same sequence and aspire to thermostatic consistency. ("It's really hard to maintain a steady temperature," he said.) Choudhury's suit refers to Gumucio's operation as the Napster of yoga.

"It'd be like if Arnold Schwarzenegger said, 'O.K., five lunges, three bench presses, and ten squats--I own that workout,' " Gumucio suggested, placing himself firmly (if conveniently) in the yoga-as-sport camp, after settling into a banquette at Lure with a glass of white wine. Gumucio has shoulder-length hair and a sturdy build. He was dressed in a flannel shirt, looking more Seattle (where he used to live) than SoHo. "Bikram is a much more compelling person than I am," he said, and attributed his falling out with Choudhury to the realization that strong personalities and yoga are to some extent spiritually incompatible. Within the restaurant, however, he appeared to have achieved the status of a guru, as first the sommelier (female) and then a co-owner, John McDonald, stopped by to pay their respects. "Thank God yoga still belongs to the people," McDonald, an extreme-sports buff, said, while munching on a vinegary potato chip. …

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