So who owns yoga anyway?

Yoga, as we know has hit the mainstream, and its mental and physical benefits have propelled it into a multibillion dollar business around the world. With this comes attempts by some to claim ownership over something which essentially belongs in the public domain. As a result, a concerted effort is being made by the Indian Government to reclaim what it considers to be its traditional ownership over yoga.

Over the past decade, it has been collating yogic poses and other forms of traditional knowledge such as the medicinal Ayurveda, into a repository known as the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), and has sought to have this included under the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Patent Cooperation Treaty. This allows a patent examiner to consider applications relating to yoga against the TKDL, and to refuse a patent on the basis of it being a copy of traditional knowledge (as opposed to a novel ‘invention’).

Another measure being explored is the possibility of obtaining a geographical indication, which would specifically identify yoga as having originated in India. The trouble with geographical indications however, is that they normally apply to products and a particular region rather than an entire country. Famous examples include Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, which originates from specific regions within Italy, and Champagne, which comes from the Champagne region of France.

Unlike cheese and wine however, yoga is an experience rather than a tangible product, and after about 4000 years, it’s going to be difficult to identify a specific geographic location within India which can be attributed as being its original place of ‘production’. It’s also going to be just as difficult to police, as this would need to be done at the ground level on a country by country basis.

Perhaps the intention behind seeking proprietary rights is to preserve the essence of yoga, by exerting some control over what can authentically be called ‘yoga’.

Practitioners will tell you that physical benefits aside, what is truly special about yoga is the stillness it brings to the mind. In fact the physical part of yoga, as wonderful as it is, is merely preparing the body for the hours of meditation which are meant to follow. The typical mass produced yoga class at the gym however, is normally about 97% physical poses with a 5 minute rest at the end. Then of course there’s the dogis and doginis and tantrum chuckers, who must really be making the Indian Minister for Yoga scratch his head in confusion.

Whatever the true intention behind these steps, instructors and practitioners alike are watching this space with interest. In the meantime, the following sums up some of the current sentiment rather well.

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