Once upon a time, Bikram Choudhury caused waves in the yoga world by copyrighting his series of 26 yoga poses and trademarking “Bikram Yoga.” These days, there are hundreds of trademarks, copyrights and patents on yoga products and accessories. Yoga’s increasing popularity has made it a multi-billion dollar business in America alone. While the business side of yoga benefits some, like Bikram Choudhury, one organization in India has decided to fight back. Is this the end of Bikram Yoga?
First conceived of in 1999, the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has been combing through ancient texts and cataloging yogic knowledge in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL). They say, “Since time immemorial, India has possessed a rich traditional knowledge of ways and means practiced to treat diseases afflicting people… Documentation of this existing knowledge, available in public domain, on various traditional systems of medicine has become imperative to safeguard the sovereignty of this traditional knowledge and to protect it from being misappropriated in the form of patents on non-original innovations.”
The TKDL is intended to be a searchable database which will document over 1000 yoga asanas, and in some cases provide videos of yoga experts performing the pose. The creators of the TKDL hope that by documenting specific poses and the texts they come from, people around the world will be unable to obtain patents on yoga asanas. In addition to asanas, the TKDL has researched and catalogued traditional medicinal uses of plants like turmeric and aloe vera from over 100 ancient Indian texts on Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha medicine.
The creators of the TKDL say they have no intention of bringing a legal challenge against Bikram Choudhury. Instead they feel that by making these asanas part of the public domain, anyone who wants to teach yoga can simply refer to the database and be protected from copyright claims. They also plan to make the database available in Spanish, German, English, French and Japanese as a reference tool for patent offices around the world.
Right now you won’t find the yoga asana index on the TKDL, as that information hasn’t been uploaded yet. You can find some interesting information about the history of the TKDL, and see some of their successes. So far, more than 30 patent applications around the world have been withdrawn based on the medicinal information recorded in the TKDL. You can also read some basic information about Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha medicine. Be warned however, that because the website is still being constructed it isn’t fully operational at this time. Once it’s up and running, they say it should be a useful tool for yogis, while also striking a blow to those who want to use yogic knowledge for financial gain.