India Moves to Protect Yoga

Come up with an original yoga catch-phrase or what you consider a new style of yoga? Thinking you might copyright or trademark your very own yoga-ism? The Indian government might have something to say about it. In fact, India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, a government agency, has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect what they call “knowledge that should be available to everyone.”

A team of yogis from nine different schools and 200 scientists chosen by the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library are feverishly working to scan and translate texts including Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and document over 900 of the most popular yoga postures.

Why (you might be wondering) would the Indian government want to do this?

The Washington Post reported that several US companies asked permission to copyright or patent their own versions of yoga. In response, The Indian government is sending a clear and strong message that this is not an option. “We wanted to ensure that, in the future nobody will be able to claim that he has created a yoga posture which was actually already created in 2500 BC, India,” said VK Gupta, head of the digital library.

As yoga continues to move into the mainstream, a growing number of Americans (approximately 30 million to date) participate in some sort of yoga practice. The yoga industry generates around $6 billion in the United States annually. Compare this to the 2009 statistics for the video game industry just released by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) that made up a mere $4.9 billion.

The industry of Yoga is creating more American dollars than the Video Game Industry. If that’s not moving into mainstream America, I don’t know what is.

It’s obvious that yoga continues to grow in an economy where more traditional forms of US industry seem to be on the decline. And it’s obvious, too, that as Americans, we want our piece of the ancient Indian yoga pie.

Calcutta born, Bikram Chodhury, (Beverly Hills, CA resident yoga mogul) was the first to copyright 26 poses adapted from 84 classical yoga postures creating Bikram Yoga. Chodhury created a heated controversy in 2004 when he began notifying yoga instructors saying that they were required to attain a license from him to teach and to use the term ‘Bikram yoga.’ This has long rankled many in the global yoga community who maintain that yoga can’t be owned by anyone. Chodhury has amassed a fortune and controls an empire of over 500 yoga studios and 6000 yoga teachers.

It seems that it is exactly this type of thing the Indian government is hoping to avoid in the future.

The Digital Library plans to release the entire catalogue in September and US yoga studios will have access via the US Patent Offices. The information will be available in English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese, according to the Washington Post.


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