The Atlantic is out with a piece investigating that central question:
Nailing a headstand in yoga class is already pretty difficult—it’s a balancing act that takes many people years to master. But if one of India’s recent initiatives is realized, perfecting the pose might become that much harder: The nation’s government is quietly wondering if someday it will be able to dictate what can be called “yoga” and what can’t.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an effort to have yoga become recognized first and foremost as an Indian practice grounded in the Hindu tradition.
For India to effectively claim to own yoga, Modi would need to secure what’s called a “geographical indication.” A geographical indication is a formal acknowledgement of location’s importance to a specific product—in the European Union, it’s what protects a fizzy beverage made in the Champagne region of France from imitators produced elsewhere. Geographical indications are bestowed by a country’s government trade office, but there isn’t a U.N.-like body to resolve international disputes.
Practically speaking, securing a geographical indication for yoga would be nearly impossible. “While yoga certainly originated in India,” says Sonia Katyal, a law professor at Fordham University who specializes in intellectual property, “its widespread adoption in the West—including the hundreds of types of yogas created by enterprising westerners like mommy-and-me yoga, nude yoga, dog yoga—makes it a little harder to explain how its Indian origins are always essential the practice or characteristics of yoga today.”
The piece also points out that it would be virtually impossible to enforce such a distinction. (Meaning: The U.N. black helicopters won’t be landing in the parking lot outside your yoga studio.)
The reason the Indian government might keep pursuing this quixotic goal is pretty simple: money. We all know by now that the “yoga industry” is a multi-billion dollar one. Get a little piece of that and, heck, India could do another Mars mission.
Posted by Steve