Who does Yoga does belong to?
Who does yoga belong to? The correct answer is nobody and everybody however, this answer has proved to be extremely problematic of late as the ancient practice of Yoga has become a multi billion growth market. It’s quite remarkable that a 5,000 year old ancient practice has become so popular across the world but even more so that it become popular and more profitable in the west than it has in its ancestral home of India.
This fact alone has led to controversy as the more yoga has become increasingly commoditized in the west (the United States especially) as well as in India, the more India and its government has become more possessive of it.
The Indian government has mostly tolerated the proliferation of the different yoga styles and the particular focus on the physical aspects of yoga in the west however, with the attempts in recent years by US based corporations and successful yogis to patent everything from poses to yoga pants in the west, the Indian government has become more proactive about protecting the practice which spawned the recent shortlisting of 1500 asanas as “traditional knowledge” last year .
Narendra Modi, prime minister of India and a confessed yoga fanatic, has been steadfast in attempting to make yoga an institution in India going as far as appointing a minister of yoga and establishing the international day of yoga two years ago. Modi has also been quite zealous about espousing the benefits of yoga claiming that yoga can help tackle everything from diabetes to climate change. With such a strong belief in the power of yoga, it’s no surprise that Modi is dead against yoga becoming a commodity as yoga, in his opinion at least, “belongs to the whole world”.
While there are few who would dispute that yoga belongs to the world, there are plenty who would disagree with Modi’s position on yoga’s commodification not least successful yogis such as Bikram Choudhury and every owner of Lululemon stocks. Vancouver based Lululemon Athletica is by far the most successful company in commodifying yoga with the company being a market leader in yoga apparel in the US and worth just over $10 billion. Like any company with a strong market position, Lululemon has been as aggressive to protecting its patents even famously taking fashion giant Calvin Klein to court over it’s yoga pants patent.
Modi, a proud nationalist, probably wouldn’t be a fan of a Canadian company’s dominant market position in yoga apparel however, he most definitely wouldn’t agree with controversial “hot yoga” founder Bikram Choudhury attempt to patent his own yoga poses. While Choudhury’s case fell apart late last year after a Californian court ruled against him, if he was successful, Choudhury could possibly make “hot yoga” teachers pay for rights to use yoga poses or at least make them ask for “authorization”. More importantly, he would have been the first person to successfully own a piece of the practice, a scenario that would have alienated yoga teachers and practitioners alike.
However, even if the Californian court had ruled in Choudhury favour, the fact that yoga belongs to nobody and everybody would still be true. The ancient practice of yoga would still continue its rise in popularity across the globe and change lives for the better as people are drawn to the power of yoga rather than it’s methods as the real power of yoga lies within its message of peace with oneself.
In sum, yoga belongs to everybody and despite the recent attempts by corporations and successful yoga teachers to protect and establish ownership over aspects of the practice, will always belong to everybody whether they succeed or not.
 PTI, 2015, Over 1500 yoga asanas shortlisted to thwart patenting by foreign parties, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/over-1500-yoga-asanas-shortlisted-to-thwart-patenting-by-foreign-parties/
 A. Ayres, 2016, Namaste world! Why India thinks yoga diplomacy could save the world, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alyssaayres/2016/06/21/namaste-world-india-amps-up-its-yoga-diplomacy/#5f2d9c4220f0
 A. Jones, 2012, Downward Docket: The Yoga Pants War, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443696604577645891750143350
 I. Lovett, 2015, Court Rules ‘Hot Yoga’ Isn’t entitled to Copyright, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/15/us/court-rules-hot-yoga-isnt-entitled-to-copyright.html?_r=0