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'Yoga wars' spoil spirit of ancient practice, Indian agency says
Open Source Yoga Unity, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group of yoga enthusiasts, filed a federal lawsuit against Choudhury's patent. The lawsuit resulted in a confidential settlement agreement.
Today, Choudhury's form of yoga is taught at more than 400 centers from Washington to Paris. His net worth is unofficially estimated at $7 million.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted at least 131 patents on the subject of yoga, most for books and yoga mats. The database of registered and pending trademarks lists 3,700 trademarks but no specific patents on postures or variations of postures, the government agency said.
In India, yoga used to be free, practiced in public parks and ashrams. It was typically part of a Hindu religious commitment to an austere life and seen as a practice for ash-smeared holy men in loincloths who were vegetarians, abstained from alcohol, and prayed, meditated and chanted for more than four hours a day.
But yoga has entered the mainstream in India, and millions of people practice in studios. The government has encouraged the army to teach supple poses to stressed-out officers in the disputed region of Kashmir. Hundreds of Mumbai residents practiced outside in a show of unity after the 2008 terrorist attack. Prisoners in the state of Madhya Pradesh can receive an early release if they complete a meditative breathing and stretching yoga course, which is said to be excellent for anger management.
At her popular Iyengar yoga class at her home in New Delhi, instructor Nischint Singh, 42, said that yoga was originally meant to soothe shattered souls and teach breathing known as pranayama, and that she always thought it should be open to everyone.
"Yoga is for developing a connection with yourself. It's meant to be meditative," she said before a recent class. "But today it's being sold as a way of weight loss and a way to look younger. The actual originators of yoga are not even alive. Everything people are doing today is just following them."
Special correspondent Ayesha Manocha contributed to this report.