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Patently Preserved: India Will No Longer Let You Steal Their Yoga

in Business of Yoga, MUST READS, World News, YD News, Yoga Origins

While many Western yogis perish the thought of locking down an absolute definition of yoga – why pigeon hole the practice as physical, spiritual, or religious? And discount all the crazy hybrids and spin-offs with rollerblades and 105 degree heat franchise opportunities? Not a chance! Also, that government licensing issue gets pretty sticky when we try and label yoga as one thing or the other. How can you define something that transcends any one description?  That’s what freewheeling and (it must be said) free enterprising, equal opportunity Westerner yoga minds tend to think. But, the head honchos of team preservation India have other ideas on the matter. Think you can patent your new awesome form of yoga? Think again! The Indian government has already compiled a library, the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library to be exact (which we reported on last year), to document every single yoga pose from ancient texts, not to mention other bits of heritage such as ayurveda, to provide a concrete system, essentially protecting it all from bastardization and subsequent “unlawful” patenting and other naughtiness. But so far the contextual efforts haven’t been enough, and now they’ve taken to filming hundreds of asanas to prove India had ’em first!

From today’s Guardian UK:

“It’s like soccer and Britain,” said Suneel Singh, one of India’s leading yoga gurus. “You have given it to the world which is wonderful and generous. But imagine that people started saying they had invented the sport. That would be annoying.”

OMG, right? Dr Vinod Kumar Gupta, head of the TKDL, explains the move to “videographs” as they call them:

“Simple text isn’t adequate. People are claiming they are doing something different from the original yoga when they are not.”

“Yoga originated in India. People cannot claim to invent a new yoga when they have not.”

Uh oh. Lookout Christoga-ers! We’d love to hear what scholarly yogapop star Deepak Chopra and his journalistic nemesis Aseem Shukla have to say about this, after battling it out over whether or not yoga and Hinduism are intertwined. London Swamster Pragyamurti Saraswati has already spoken out about India’s move to claim yoga asanas as property:

“Poses are not the definition of yoga, which consists of breathing practices, deep relaxation, and meditative practices – not just postures.”

Reminiscing about the yoga movement of the 60s and with it an “expansion of consciousness,”

“In fact, I’m distressed at the way things have developed in recent years. When yoga first became popular in the 60s in the western world, it was about an expansion of consciousness. We were looking for deeper truth. But what’s happening in yoga now is a retrogressive step. It buys into this body obsession, and indeed the body dysmorphia that pervades western culture.”

Hm. Yoga is certainly way more popular these days, and the yoga “image” of kooky hippies has evolved to include everyday folks, yoga moms, and cancer patients. If India wants get all finders keepers about yoga poses, maybe that’s fine as long we can all continue d-dogging as always? Naturally we’re super pissed about having to squash our plans to patent pOga – the freestyling street yoga on a pogo stick! When plain old walking just isn’t enough. Bounce into bliss!

Also, curious how this plays into Bikram’s big plans to bring his own brand of competitive yoga to the Olympics.

ps. who’s going to claim the patent on coconut water? that’s gotta be next.

EarlierYoga Beef: Deepak Chopra vs. Aseem Shukla on Yoga, Hinduism and Western Egos

Holy Yoga! Religious Yoga Hybrids Are a Godsend

India to Save Yoga from Western Pirates!

21 comments… add one
  • IMO, anyone who thinks yoga belongs to them, or thinks they have “invented” a new type of yoga that can be patented doesn’t get it—in a big way. Anyone heard of aparigraha (non-attachment)?

    I understand India’s traditional yogis being disappointed by what is being called yoga in West. And I also understand why they might be offended at the thought of anyone laying claim to practices that have been around for thousands of years. I’m not sure that responding to this by in turn laying claim to these same practices is the answer though.

  • Rock My Soles

    Yogadork love you stirring up the pot. Is it a gym class or yoga? Is it true juice or artificially flavored with fructose?

  • playing devil’s advocate, but I’ve had this discussion with friends of mine in India…what one told me (BTW, he has never done one asana) regarding the so-called “theft” of yoga to the West:

    “for a few hundred years the British ensured- in a systematic and calculated strategy- that the [Indian] legacy was destroyed- (to do with plunder, really.) Also destroyed were much industry and wealth that dominated the world. Credit is given for a zillion things in arts and science to the West, even though in most fields, a lot of the East (not just India) was not years ahead, but centuries ahead of whatever life existed in the West. The theft of Yoga, if true, is just the drop of water at the tip of the iceberg.”

    to many people, this “theft” of yoga to the West or the name-branding of yoga runs much deeper than merely someone putting his and her name on a centuries old practice.

  • Freda

    Hands off my English Gymnastics, India!

  • Karen (Yoga Sweetie)

    Loved the quote about Britain and soccer. Even more annoying to ‘give’ the sport to the world and then let the world kick your ass at the forthcoming World Cup 😉

  • elaine

    And then there will be a fight within India regarding which lineage has the “real” yoga. Everything evolves from something else. Get over it.

  • Cyndi Singh

    What about Nepal…that’s Hindu country too! The land of Ashtanga Yoga, LOL!!

  • vakibs


    That’s absolutely correct. The question on the back of many Indians’ minds is not about patenting yoga and preventing innovation from happening. It is about whether the rightful credit be given to the contributions of Indian scientists and sages over history.

    Take for example, medicine. Or mathematics, or astronomy, or cognitive science. No mention whatsoever is made of the fundamental and far-reaching contributions of India in these fields. Instead they are all attributed to Greeks – the father of medicine this , the father of astronomy that etc..

  • Where did India get it originally? From watching animals stretch. If I stretch like a dog or a cat, who cares in what country they did this first? Yoga in the U.S. is nothing like in India, we all know that! Like pizza in Italy or Chinese food in China, yes we take things and change them. This would be like us saying that movies in India are not very good because they are not like movies in Hollywood and we invented them.
    I just stretch. I don’t even care what I call it. It is beneficial to my health. What are they gonna do?

  • DrishtiMon

    “Loved the quote about Britain and soccer. Even more annoying to ‘give’ the sport to the world and then let the world kick your ass at the forthcoming World Cup.”

    And truly, Suneel Singh should know that it is “football” in England and not “soccer”. Truly, truly if one is going to be a prig and cultural snob then let’s get that snobbishness correct!

  • DrishtiMon

    Ok, so it started or evolved in India. Now what? Royalties? Admission? Religious conversion?

    Exactly what is it that the apoplectic apostles of Hinduism want, exactly?

  • Amazing the extent to which people try and leverage the patent system. I still think the secret to any holistic wellness brand is in the delivery, level of service, and video is a great tool. Good for India in using video to help educate the world about yoga, albeit for other reasons – information about health & wellness should be shared. Great Post!

  • Lisa

    I don’t think anyone has “stolen” yoga from India. I believe almost everyone knows the national origins of yoga.
    But at the time yoga developed, there was no India. There were multiple kingdoms that all fought each other for control. So, which Indians will get to patent yoga?
    And for that matter, shouldn’t India then give up their numerous championships in cricket? How could they just take it over like that? They should just give all the awards to Britain.
    Anyone who’s Indian knows there’s as much disagreement in Indian on almost anything that there is worldwide. So, do all Indians want the patent? I don’t think most care.

  • Lisa

    Sorry….typo. Meant to type disagreement in “India”.

  • Chris

    The move by the Indian Government to patent Yoga is actually driven by the desire to protect the sublime, ancient Hindu wisdom of Yoga from being preyed-upon by crass, cynical, commercially-driven, lawyer-minded, capitalist Patent-Jackals.

    India has already had some astonishing and bitter experiences with such ” Yeah, damn-straight, I’m Patenting This Too ” attitude from the West. Thus, already :

    1) Basmati Rice ( The fragrant, delicious rice traditionally grown for centuries in India). And yet, the US went ahead and patented certain strains of Basmati rice. How ? The US Lawyers called these patented strains of rice “Texmati”.
    Texmati ? Really ? Oh, puhleeze !

    If France can copyright Champagne, then why can’t India copyright Basmati rice ? In other words, only that rice grown in the traditional Basmati-growing regions of India should legally be allowed the privilege of being termed ‘Basmati-rice’.

    2) Darjeeling Tea : The US tried to patent Darjeeling Tea, the tea traditionally grown on the hill-slopes of the Darjeeling Region of Bengal state in India.

    3) Neem : Various parts of the Neem tree, native to India, have traditionally been used for thousands of years, for their medicinal properties (anti-bacterial, anti-septic, etc.) Neem has traditionally been used in Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu system of medicine. And yet, the US went ahead and tried to patent the medicinal use of the Neem tree.

    4) Ayurveda : The ancient Hindu system of Medicine is being preyed upon by the Western Patent-Jackals.

    Now, can you really blame the Indian Government for taking steps to protect the Hindu science of Yoga, ancient India’s Gift to Mankind, from the Western Patent-Jackals ?

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