Can you own an ancient practice? India has recently appointed a “Minister of Yoga” to the Cabinet, and begun compiling a library that demonstrates how to “properly” do yoga. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants yoga to be recognized as an Indian tradition. While nothing official has been released, the government appears to be moving in the direction of proposing a geographical indication; this is the same trade indication that the European Union has in regards to champagne, which can only be produced in the same-named region of France. This would be part of the Indian government’s campaign to improve infrastructure and manufacturing sectors, including improving the economy has a whole.
However, a geographical indication on something intangible like yoga would be difficult, and possibly largely unenforceable. The United States already allows “champagne” to be sold that is not from Champagne, and also allows cheeses named after certain regions to be sold without verifying their origin. There is no international body to enforce these disputes and vaguely worded geographical indications. However, if a geographical indication is successful, India could have access to a portion of the $10 billion a year American yoga industry.
There is controversy on whether anyone can actually own yoga, especially as yoga has evolved over time. While some use it as a spiritual endeavor, others simply do yoga for the workout. Yoga has taken on so many different forms – power yoga, children’s yoga, dog yoga, all sorts of different variations – can any one country own it, even the country of origin? Is it right to establish a geographical indication on a booming industry? Should geographical indications even be allowed?