Open Source Yoga

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Open source Yoga


Against the patenting of yoga techniques.


Submitted by Frederick Noronha:

"WHO OWNS YOGA RIGHTS? India in damage-control mode after US 'guru' gets copyright

From the Hindustan Times of Friday, June 30, 2006

INDIA IS willing to go to the mat over yoga.

That's because authorities are incensed Bikram Choudhury, the self-proclaimed Hollywood "yoga teacher to the stars," got a US copyright on his style of yoga four years ago.

In response, India has put 100 historians and scientists to work cataloguing 1500 yoga poses recorded in ancient texts written in Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian.

India will use the catalogue to try to block anyone from cornering the market on the 5000-year-old discipline of stretching, breathing and meditating.

Bikram says he sought legal protection for his yoga because "it's the American way."

"You cannot drive the car if you do not have a driver's license," he explains. "You cannot even do a massage if you don't have a license," And, he says, you shouldn't be able to teach his Bikram Yoga unless youpay him for a license.

The Indian counter-attack goes way beyond Bikram. The government wants to thwart anyone who tries to profit from the nation's "traditional knowledge," from yoga to 150,000 ancient medical remedies.

India already has successfully challenged one US patent granted to two India-born Americans who used the spice tumeric in a wound-healing product. That patent was revoked by the US.

"Practically every Indian housewife knows (tumeric) and uses it to heal wounds," says V K Gupta, of the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources, which is developing the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.

When completed, perhaps as soon as December, the digital library will be translated into English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese and sent to patent, copyright and trademark offices around the world.

That way, when someone such as Bikram tries to get a copyright on yoga moves or patents on ancient medicinal cures, those offices could say: "No, that's not original. They've been doing it in India for thousands of years."

India has no plans to challenge Bikram in court, Gupta says. But it hopes the digital library will stop others from following him."



“Who owns the rights to yoga? Clearly, yoga is a practice with deep origins in India. But it is also a hugely popular multi-billion dollar industry in the West (especially in the U.S.) Apparently, India has decided to take some serious action in response to the 2,580 (!) yoga-related patents, copyrights, and trademarks that have been filed in the U.S.

In order to take back ownership of what they feel to be their national legacy of yoga, India has given a team of 200 experts the task of assembling a complete catalog of yoga poses and ancient yogic texts. This reference guide is called the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, and so far 600 yoga poses have been officially recorded in it, with about 1,000 to go. By creating this detailed catalog, the Indian government hopes to put an end to Westerners staking legal (and profitable) ownership claims on yoga. It’s unclear whether this bold move will give India the power to retroactively affect yoga-related patents already in existence, or whether it will only entitle them to deflect new patents from here on out.

Yes, yoga has its origins in India, but the manner in which it’s practiced today in the West is a 95%-new incarnation that hasn’t existed for more than a generation or two. T. Krishnamacharya, the highly-respected “grandfather” of Hatha Yoga who was the first person to teach a form of yoga that we would vaguely recognize today, lived from 1888 until 1989.

In other words, yoga as we know it in the West is a modern invention. Heck, the yoga mat, the #1 indispensible tool for anyone’s yoga practice, wasn’t even invented until the 1980’s or so…

Therefore, we get a little tired of hearing that ubiquitous, shaky claim that yoga is 5,000 years old. As though what we do today on bright purple yoga mats in hardwood floor-lined rooms with blocks, straps, and blankets in tow is really anything close to what people in India did back in the year 3,000 BCE… Yeah, right!

We can’t think of a more beneficial practice for your body, mind, or soul than yoga. But it’s not because it’s ancient. It’s because it’s an intelligently-designed system for our modern world, and it was designed by one man in the early 1900’s.

To take us back to the original point of this post, we think that the whole debate about who should own the rights to yoga is silly. We know that yoga is practiced by millions of people throughout the world, and we know that it has changed forms incredibly in recent years. It’s therefore a collective, mutable practice that has neither a specific point of origin nor a single, static form. In essence, then, it’s owned by everyone who practices yoga, and it’s also owned by no one. And it’s certainly not owned by Beverly Hills Bikram Choudhury or 200 cataloguing experts in India.” (

More Information

Intellectual Property Rights and Traditional Knowledge: The Case of Yoga

By Srinivas, Krishna Ravi: " Yoga with origins in India has become part of global consumer culture and has been transformed into what is called as 'transnational yoga'. Hence it has many meanings in different contexts. This article addresses the controversies and discusses the complexities involved in intellectual property rights related to Yoga."