Patents and Lawsuits: The Future of Yoga?

A thick Fedex package, sitting on our director's desk, sat waiting to be opened. After the seal was broken and the documents inside were read, it hit us—we were being sent a cease and desist letter.....for yoga. Turns out, a well known online yoga website (YogaGlo) is trying to patent the standard yoga class set up: center aisle, students on each side, teacher at the front.

Just three months ago we launched—a comprehensive resource to help you connect with authentic teachings and timeless wisdom in new and innovative ways. Our hope has been for YI to serve as a 21st century extension of the student-teacher relationship that has been held sacred through the ages, and since our debut in July, we’ve been excited to see sincere students and teachers share, learn, and grow via our interactive online platform.

In the midst of our enthusiasm however, we received this Fedex package. On one hand, this patent really doesn’t impact us in a substantial way. While some of our earlier video content does fall under the very broad description given in their patent application, we’ve found that closer, individualized, one-on-one yoga classes are better suited for online learning, and therefore we’ve transitioned away from the wider shots that they are attempting to patent.

On the other hand, we have concerns about their approach, and what it means for us, and more so, for the yoga community as a whole. Here at the Himalayan Institute, we’ve been teaching yoga in the US for over forty years, and come from a five-thousand-year-old tradition of students and teachers sharing, and growing knowledge. This tradition has always been about students gaining wisdom from their teachers and expanding upon that wisdom to become great teachers themselves. The concept of controlling or owning a part of that process is very foreign to us. While we certainly dislike the idea of (and would ideally like to avoid) “owning” a particular way of presenting yoga, this experience has left us wondering if we should look for means to legally protect our style of online teaching, lest another organization inform us that we can no longer present digital content  in our current manner either.

In addition, while we have the luxury of an onsite production set, most teachers do not. The obvious way to film a yoga class is head-on during a live class, which would be in direct violation of this patent, effectively prohibiting many teachers from sharing their teachings online at all. That doesn't feel right to us. In fact, it is the antithesis of our approach, as we’d like to see more teachers able to share their wisdom with others, not less.

What we own, as teachers and students of yoga, is our life. We own the unique perspective that a lifetime of experiences brings.

The value a teacher brings to her students is not from where they stand in the room, or the colors of the mats they provide, it is from the life they spent studying this thousands-year-old tradition. This needs no protection, because it cannot be copied.

As students, teachers, and practitioners, we value your opinions greatly, and we want to hear your voice on this issue. Should organizations be able to patent the delivery of yoga? Is this a natural progression of the yoga industry, or is this overreaching?

SEPTEMBER 26 UPDATE: Yoga Alliance has posted a petition here asking YogaGlo to withdraw its patent. We also added the name of the organization above as it has now been reported by multiple media sources. YogaGlo has posted two clarifiying updates on their blog.

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