Saturday, November 21, 2009

Is the Spirit of Competition in the Soul of Yoga?; New York Times, 11/19/09

Sara Eckel, New York Times; Is the Spirit of Competition in the Soul of Yoga?:

"The ultimate goal of the Choudhurys, who emigrated from India to Los Angeles, is to have yoga qualify as an Olympic sport. “It’s far away,” Mrs. Choudhury said in an interview. “A lot of work needs to be done before we really get into it, but this is our dream.”

One big obstacle may be the yoga community itself. To many people, the idea of competition goes against the philosophy of yoga, which emphasizes self-acceptance and inner growth. Although yoga does tend to attract people who are limber, the physical poses, or asanas, are only one aspect of the practice; others include chanting, meditation and reading Sanskrit.

“The initial reaction from most people is always the same thing: competition yoga? Those things don’t belong in the same sentence,” said John Philp, a filmmaker in New York who directed a documentary film, “Yoga, Inc.,” about the commercialization of Western yoga, and wrote a book with the same title.

Also in dispute is the extent to which the Choudhurys could benefit if Bikram yoga — also known as “hot” yoga, because it is usually practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees — were to become the accepted standard for competition yoga, which already takes place in India and more than a dozen other countries.

Mrs. Choudhury says that promoting Bikram yoga is not her intention. She said she had made a determined effort to keep the brand separate from the competition — for example, by forming the two nonprofits and encouraging event organizers to hold competitions in theaters and cultural centers rather than Bikram studios. She also noted that yoga competitions were not conducted in hot rooms.

“I don’t want the Bikram name on it,” she said. “I want something that is accessible to everyone.”

Her husband has a United States copyright on a sequence of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, and his efforts to use the legal system to protect his copyright have caused friction in the yoga community. Some people bristle at the notion that an ancient practice aimed at health and enlightenment can be governed by copyright and trademark laws.

Mrs. Choudhury notes that her husband has not copyrighted individual postures, only a very particular sequence, which is not used in the competitions."

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