Sunday, 24 January 2021 : Local To Global News

Patents: A new mantra in the marketing of Yoga

Sanjeev Bhanot runs the YogaLife studio in Delhis Defence Colony. He has been practising yoga for 32 years and has recently returned from EuropeBy Sanjeev Bhanot

First it was Haldi, Neem and Basmati. Now it is Yoga.
The move by US-based Bikram Choudhary to get copyright for his Bikram yoga programme – a sequence of 26 yoga postures performed in a heated room -- has created a storm in India. All of last week, news channels in India devoted prime time to this ‘daring posture’ by the Beverly Hills yoga maestro, as they went about seeking the opinion of lawyers, other yoga gurus and the general Indian populace on the issue.
Choudhary, in turn, fired his own salvo by making an appearance on NCR news channel where he claimed that if yoga has today become a multi billion dollar business, then it’s thanks to new champions and ‘experimental’ yoga gurus like him.
Hot Yoga PosterUnknowingly, Choudhary might have struck the nerve of the issue. The way things are going a marketing text book on yoga has become long overdue. In the US, yoga is an estimated $3 billion industry in the US and growing by the day. Surveys commissioned by Yoga Journal showed that 16.5 million people or 7.5 percent of U.S. adults are  practicing yoga. Almost every day a new variant of this 5,000 year old ancient Indian science is born – recently there were reports about hip hop yoga and a new hybrid Japanese Indian form called budokon yoga!. With so many choices, the consumer base of yoga is only growing larger and larger.
Bikram ChaudharyEven in India, where yoga has traditionally always had huge takers, the consumer base is expanding rapidly thanks to a plethora of new gurus, growth of television yoga and some strong marketing. So, in a way, Bikram Choudhary’s move appears to be but an inevitable progression in the evolution of yoga from a sacred science to a tradable commodity.
And, so like every other business, there are marketing battles to fight. As more and more players enter the fray, there are turfs to protect. New brands to create.  Everybody wants a share of this extremely lucrative pie.  Yoga has become a product that needs to be advertised, packaged, marketed so that it attracts more and more consumers.  Now, add one more ‘marketing mantra’ to this list – patenting.
In all this rampant commercialization, what everybody – or at least people like Bikram Choudhary -- seem to have forgotten is that the idea behind yoga is to heal .. and not to earn money.
Going by the brash statements issued by him on television, Choudhary also errs in many of his thoughts. If he thinks experimentation is happening only in US soil, then he should visit his homeland more often. In India, much before he was born, there are many who have studied Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in detail. Who have gone through the commentaries on it by Vyas and studied the scriptures and drawn their own interpretations and then done their own innovations. Many schools of yoga abound in India, many of them in remote areas, reaching out to the suffering masses.. and not the elite or rich few.
These Indian gurus have never gone to extreme measures of branding, marketing and patenting, but openly shared their knowledge, teaching all they have learnt.
The medicinal properties and healing effects of haldi, neem were not discovered or researched by any American laboratory. It was part of our intellect and our combined heritage. This is something that we generously shared with the whole world so that everyone could enjoy the benefits.
Similarly, yoga has been part of our consciousness and open for interpretation any which way.
This time, the patent action hurts more because unlike the case of Neem or Haldi, it’s not an American trying to grab a part of our intellectual property – but an Indian trying to stamp his ownership. Patanjali’s yoga describes how to control the mind, but in this case Bikram Choudhary’s actions smack of somebody losing their mind (smriti bhransh) in the face of material riches. He seems to have forgotten the words etched in Bhagvad Geeta, that prime yoga guide. Every one knows how Krishna helped Arjuna in the battlefield and how at the Hot Bikram Yogaend of the discourse, a grateful Arjuna said: “Oh Krishna with your grace my confusion has disappeared and I gained the wisdom and I am above all confusions. I will do as you say.”
In the Karma Purana, it says that when your body is in pain and mind is unstable or sick, one should not practice Yoga. In such a situation, the biggest test for yoga lovers will be how they can remain calm and unmoved and not take sides and get embroiled in fist fights.
I think it is important to send out the message that Bikram Choudhry’s act – preposterous though it may seem -- does not pose any intellectual challenge in front of yoga darshan.

(Sanjeev Bhanot runs the YogaLife studio in Delhi’s Defence Colony. He has been practising yoga for 32 years and has recently returned from Europe)