US patent on yoga? Indian gurus fume

Be ready to pay each time you do your morning yoga!

Call it a deliberate attempt to make inroads by the West into the lucrative Indian market, or an enterprising NRI trying to grab an opportunity, Bikram Yoga founder and US-based Bikram Choudhary's move to get copyright for his method of teaching yoga has sent shockwaves among yoga enthusiasts and experts in India. They say the idea of patenting knowledge like yoga is patently absurd and violates the ancient Indian art.

Born in Kolkata in 1946, Bikram began yoga at the age of four with one of the famous gurus at that time, Bishnu Ghosh. Now, Bikram — who teaches in California — has applied for the patent of yoga, which is essentially yoga in a steam room. Bikram came to the US at the invitation of President Richard Nixon in 1973 and became one of the most sought-after yoga teachers in the West as celebrities, athletes, and others began to flock to him.

Popular yoga guru Swami Ramdev has sought intervention from the government and yoga organisations to prevent Choudhary's move. "Yoga can't be owned and run like a company. Since there are attempts to patent this tradition (of yoga) in America, the Centre and yoga organisations should take measures to prevent it,"

Ramdev said in Shimla recently. "How can yoga be taught at a controlled 45 degrees Celsius temperature when it is ideally taught in the cold Himalayas?" wondered Ramdev, adding that "how can any Tom, Dick and Harry, who has no knowledge of century-old Indian tradition, can get patent of yoga?" Yoga enthusiasts and gurus have said that the move is unjustified as yoga belongs to the entire human race. The US Patent and Trademark office has reportedly issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 trademarks on yoga accessories and 2,315 yoga trademarks.

The Union government hasn't yet reacted to these patents but recently it set up a task force that is cataloguing traditional knowledge, including ayurvedic remedies and yoga postures to protect them from being pirated and copyrighted by foreigners.

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