Nailing a headstand in yoga class is already pretty difficult—it’s a balancing act that takes many people years to master. But if one of India’s recent initiatives is realized, perfecting the pose might become that much harder: The nation’s government is quietly wondering if someday it will be able to dictate what can be called “yoga” and what can’t.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an effort to have yoga become recognized first and foremost as an Indian practice grounded in the Hindu tradition. Modi created a new cabinet post for what has been called a “Minister of Yoga,” and picked Shripad Yesso Naik—former member of India’s parliament, career politician, and lifelong yogi—for the position.
Already, yoga is being incorporated into India’s schools, hospitals, and police academies, and the government is also pitching in to help create a library of videos documenting the “correct” ways to strike more than 1,500 poses—which represents a centralized response to “unofficial” guides. These efforts are part of Modi’s larger Make in India campaign, which includes plans to improve the country’s public infrastructure and manufacturing sector. The end goal of Naik’s appointment might be to get a slice of what has become a multi-billion-dollar industry in the U.S. by establishing yoga’s Indian-ness.
For India to effectively claim to own yoga, Modi would need to secure what’s called a “geographical indication.” A geographical indication is a formal acknowledgement of location’s importance to a specific product—in the European Union, it’s what protects a fizzy beverage made in the Champagne region of France from imitators produced elsewhere. Geographical indications are bestowed by a country’s government trade office, but there isn’t a U.N.-like body to resolve international disputes. Continue reading >>