There’s a story happening in New York City that I was going to leave alone because it really doesn’t impact Ashtanga all that much.
Or so I thought.
If you haven’t seen, Bikram has sued another yoga studio for allegedly ripping off his patented (that’s the important word) style and sequence of yoga poses.
Here’s a rundown.
I’m going to assume you know who Bikram is and that he does have a copyright on his set of yoga poses. It’s one reason why Bikram yoga is different from just hot yoga.
I also assume you know that Bikram hasn’t been afraid to aggressively fight for his rights under the law.
Aside from the debate about yoga vs. just asana, Bikram’s patent might be the most contentious topic in American yoga. (OK, maybe the debate about how much yoga owes to Hinduism is one of the top two. But Bikram’s in the top three.)
As I wrote, I had been leaving this story alone, but then I read through the unusually high number of comments on YogaDork’s piece on it, and one of them struck a major chord: “If Sri K. Pattabhi Joi [sic] would copyright [sic] his ashtanga sequence you would have to [pay him royalties, ala to Bikram].”
Think about that for a second. One of the key draws to (most) Ashtanga studios is a claim to authenticity, best personified by the teachers’ having authorizations from Mysore or, even better, certifications. To get them, of course, requires time and some amount of money — it seems like how much has changed over the years. (I’m talking pure logistics, and not the deeper commitment, understanding and competency of authorized or certified teachers.)
But, as far as I know, beyond some rules about returning to Mysore regularly, that’s as far as it goes. (I’m happy to hear more details if anyone has it and wants to share.)
What I do know is that there is no trademark to “Ashtanga Yoga.” Given Patanjali, it probably would be tough to get. As a result, you can find studios all over that offer Ashtanga classes, even Mysore variety ones, with little to no direct connection to Guruji or Mysore.
A question is: Is that OK?
I’m sure answers will vary widely. What I do know is that for me, an attraction of the practice — especially as I’ve learned it mainly through Tim Miller and Jörgen Christiansson — is the clear lineage back to Guruji. I appreciate that connection, and that as a result I’m not just doing a flow sequence each morning.
To put it in the context of Bikram, I pretty much feel like I’m practicing a “patented” form of yoga; it’s just not “patented” in the sense of the legal meaning.
If it were, though, I wonder how I’d feel. I know Bikram’s business practice turns me off, for all the usual and stereotypical reasons. Would I be similarly put off by an officially “patented” Ashtanga?
Why, though? I’m really not sure. I think, other than whatever piece of paper Bikram has his patent on, we’re talking two pretty similar “yogas” here. It’s an apples to apples, not apples to oranges, comparison. Could my reaction really just be based on the idea that “yoga should be free?” I guess.
Anyone want to join me and start an “Occupy Bikram” movement?
Posted by Steve