INDIAN YOGI'S "HOT" FORMULA FOR BURNING CALORIES AND
MAKING MILLIONS -- ON "60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY"
In almost every American city you can find a group of people practicing yoga in a studio that has been heated to over 100 degrees. The yoga they're practicing is called Bikram Yoga, but with more than a million students served, this type of yoga has also earned itself a catchy nickname: McYoga. And just like the Big Mac, which tastes the same in every McDonald's restaurant, Bikram Choudhury wants all of his students to have the same yoga experience, so he copyrighted the set of 26 postures and two
breathing exercises that define Bikram Yoga. Correspondent Mika Brzezinski's report on Choudhury's "torture chamber" will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY June 8 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
In a story that has become part of Bikram's legend, the 59-year-old yoga guru tells Brzezinski that he gave Richard Nixon his special "hot" treatment in 1972 when the former president, who was visiting the South Pacific, was suffering from phlebitis. "�He asked me first thing, 'Sir, who are you? Are you an Indian black magician?,'" says Choudhury. "That's the language he used�I said, 'No...I'm a yogi.'" Choudhury says Nixon was so happy with his help that he gave the Indian yogi an open invitation to live in the United States.
Choudhury soon found his way to the United States. Today, he pushes his yoga students to contort until it hurts in a room he affectionately calls his "torture chamber." "I don't sell cheesecake," says Choudhury. "You know that, so you come there to suffer. If you don't suffer, you don't get anything�." Choudhury doesn't believe that yoga should be relaxing or meditative. "No, that's the biggest problem in America. That's the way yoga [was] introduced to America. Yoga [in America] means sit and close your eyes and you will look at the lamp and look at the crystal and meditate." Choudhury also mocks doctors who suggest that there should be a medical warning on his yoga classes. "Tell the doctor [that] I say to start chicken farm."
But Choudhury is not so flippant when it comes to managing his business. Vanessa Calder says her family-run studio was doing well until June 2002 when it received a letter from Choudhury's attorneys telling the family to "immediately cease and desist" teaching Bikram yoga or face legal action. "It was extremely scary," says Calder. "Here we were being threatened with lawsuits with hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims." Choudhury claimed that the studio was guilty of copyright violations because it let non-Bikram trained instructors teach Bikram classes, as well as other types of yoga. Calder organized a group of Bikram instructors to take the yogi to court.
Choudhury argued in court that his precise sequence of yoga postures and breathing exercises should be eligible for copyright protection, just like a choreographer can copyright the dance steps in a ballet or a musician can turn a sequence of "do, re, mis" into a copyrighted song. "Yoga is free," says Choudhury. "It belongs to the earth. It's a God, but I picked up a piece of it and I created something." A federal judge agreed that a yoga sequence can be copyrighted and that Choudhury did not misuse his copyright by sending out "cease and desist" letters.
Jeff Fager is the executive producer of 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY and Trisha Sorrells is the producer of this report.