Today was an important day in the history of American yoga; it was the day a patent was issued for doing something as obvious as filming a yoga class.
Sure, there are stipulations on the way such footage is produced. But the bottom line is, Yogaglo now owns the sole legal right to visually record students in live yoga classes in a certain configuration, which means that if you, or anyone else wants to do the same, you could be sued.
What should we plan on patenting next? The word “yoga”? Or maybe breathing? Perhaps someone is already planning on buying the rights to savasana.
I can see the headline now:
“Yoga teacher sued for teaching students victorious breath. Yoga community gathers in a typically peaceful demonstration of outrage. Police debate use of riot gear. Several supporters of free yogic breathing arrested and incarcerated at an indeterminate location. Chants of “OM” now rumored to be on the docket for legal ownership.”
Only in America could we take something as basic as where we point a camera and assert that that action is ours.
There is no doubt that yoga has become a competitive and lucrative industry. As such, it is a magnet for greed, scams and impropriety. The fact that it is intended to be a spiritual practice, however, makes the improprieties within it that much more distasteful—not unlike the improprieties within the Catholic church.
I am not saying that patenting a method of filming (if you can even call it a method) is as bad as molesting an altar boy. But I am saying that any spiritual leader—who is anyone with power and influence within a spiritual community, should be called out when their actions are unethical.
Just because Yogoglo managed to make their claim (temporarily) legal, doesn’t mean it’s right.
I wonder what Patanjali would say about all this. I’m thinking he would offer sutra 1.33;
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard for the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”
In other words, he might advise us to disregard those who believe and operate as if universal ideas are theirs to own. But can we really do that?
What bothers me the most, I guess, is that companies like Lululemon, Yogaglo and others in the big business of yoga are unapologetically sucking the soul out of the practice. We accept all the ads and the glossy images and relentless call to buy and sell as inevitable because we were raised in a capitalist society.
What if we expected something different? What if we said no, individually, to the money-first culture that has overtaken yoga and is devouring it like a dog devours a meaty bone?
As yogis, we know that personal choices matter.
Every thought, every action, contributes to the shape of our society. I don’t know if Yogaglo will get to keep their patent, but assuming they do, we will have ourselves, in part, to blame.
Each of us has a responsibility to protect the sacred discipline of yoga in whatever way we can, by speaking out, by being informed and by refusing to buy products from unethical companies or people, whether they be teachers, studios, or corporations.
I don’t know if I’ll be marching around with a “Say No To Yogaglo” poster in my hand, but they certainly won’t be aiming their camera in my direction.
If they do, I might just sue.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman