If you are of a certain age, you will recall when yoga came to the shores of America and staked a claim in the suburbs. Housewives with toddlers would don their college sweatpants and gardening blouses (this is pre-lycra, remember), and watch the daily half-hour of yoga brought to them by their local PBS station on 13″ government-issue black and white TVs. Yoga was racy, yoga was exciting, yoga was the hot new vibe thrown off by the Flower Power generation and given just enough distance by the decay of the 1960s to make it acceptable on Country Club Drive.
When I was 10 my brother and I watched our mother struggle to assume the full lotus position and curse a blue streak at the TV, only to laugh in resignation when we both became yogis in miniature and started walking around the living room on our knees with our legs crossed. “One day you little Gumbys will see how hard it is too,” she said. “Sure, Mom, uh huh,” we replied. “Not gonna happen.” Fast forward some 35 years and it turns out she was right — I can no longer cross both legs with my feet on top, and I’m pretty sure my brother can’t even touch his toes. All across America, however, 10 million haute executives, exercise junkies and suburban teens are waltzing from Pilates to their next yoga class, and every new mother seems to have a yoga mat glued to one hand and a binky to the other. The yoga revolution is not only here, it’s been here for so long it’s not even a revolution anymore.
The one twist in the pretzel that forms the yoga movement is the funky dynamic of hot yoga, where you can go stretch and bend and purge your inner demons in 105° heat along with a hundred of your closest sweaty friends, and lose ten pounds in the bargain. Bikram Yoga is all the rage, from the Funky Door in San Francisco to the Tragic Rabbit in Seattle, and has spawned a spate of lawsuits over its founder’s successful attempt to patent his product.
Bikram’s basic assertion — that the mere organization of millennia-old forms into a discrete system renders it patentable — seems spurious at best, and is risible if one thinks too hard about it. These are forms, after all, that have been taught by wizened yogis in their hidden caves and mountains in India for literally thousands of years. Yet here comes Bikram swanning along in his Hummer with his gold chains and hair-actor vibe trying to steal their thunder. Saying “I discovered it” because you revealed its existence to the world doesn’t make it so, of course, but apparently if you keep saying it REALLY LOUD over and over again then a certain sector of the audience will suddenly start believing you. As Americans this shouldn’t surprise us, since we live in the land of the television pundit and the blowhard, but for it to infect yoga as it has organized religion is just somehow . . . disheartening.
If, as we are taught, Prometheus gave man fire, Krishna gave man yoga, God gave man brains, and Mother knows best, then it follows ipso facto that the Patent and Trademark Office simply hands out patents for the asking. Which is good to know, right? Tomorrow I’ll just turn up the thermostat while you’re at work and you can pay me a fee for my new patented “Hot Lawyering Techniques.”
What do you think? Will the patent office go for it?
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.