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Who owns yoga?: a reader response

January 4, 2012

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As a long-time student of yoga, I find this Bikram “battle” a little unsettling. Yes, I do understand that yoga has become a big business in this country. Studios have to lease and maintain space, pay their teachers, and turn a profit — that’s the business side of it. However, at its core, yoga is about peaceful connection, honor, integrity, and compassion. It seems to me that Bikram’s philosophy on his style of yoga and his method of teaching is something quite different. He is selling a product, a name, a system.

Fine, let him copyright his exact method, let him “own” the specifications of how classes are run in certified Bikram studios. But to demand that the teachers who take his training relinquish their professional freedom and control, even when teaching in another studio, seems to undermine the connection, honor, integrity and compassion that drives the spirit of yoga. If his teachers wish to teach in a non-Bikram yoga studio, they should be able to do so, without the threat of legal action (especially when those teachers are not even following the Bikram rules). The hot yoga at Yen is not Bikram’s Bikram yoga. There are too many differences. Therefore, he cannot stake his claim of “ownership” of the classes or the teachers.

I do hope that Paul Sutherland continues to fight for the freedom of his teachers and his studio. I am
saddened that useful resources will be spent on such a task, but if the act of fighting the lawsuit further promotes the “peaceful” spirit of yoga, then it must be done.

-L. Vanderzee

This letter also appears in the January/February issue of Spirituality & Health magazine.

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