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An Exchange

Yoga Patents?

by RICHARD KARPEL AND STEWART LAWRENCE

Mr. Lawrence:

Your article, “Who Owns Online Yoga?“, which was published recently on CounterPunch.org, may be the most poorly reported story that I have ever been named in. Although the entire article is a mess — it is clueless about both patents and yoga, and included some incredibly offensively sexist passages — I’ll stick here to factual inaccuracies about me and the organization that I represent. Because just about everything you wrote about us was inaccurate.

Please get back to me and let me know when you will be able to make these corrections to the story.

After one on-line yoga company, Yoga International, received a cease-and-desist letter from Yoga Glo, the Alliance’s new executive director Richard Karpel sponsored an online petition drive demanding that YogaGlo withdraw its patent and stop threatening to sue other online providers that may want to compete with YogaGlo by posting their own streaming videos. A nasty little web posting battle ensued, with the Alliance and its allies depicting YogaGlo as a greedy monopoly intent on discouraging competition and conquering the online yoga market for itself.

We never once depicted YogaGlo as a “greedy monopoly”; my title is president, not executive director; and I’ve been with the organization for almost two years, so I don’t think “new” works anymore.

In recent months, the Yoga Alliance, a quasi-trade association that helps “certify” yogis to teach, has enjoined the dispute.

What is a “quasi-trade association”? We are registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) — a public charity — and a 501(c)(6) — a trade association.

We don’t “help certify yogis to teach.” We provide a public registry of yoga schools and yoga teachers.

YogaGlo’s founder and CEO, Derek Mills may actually have a point about the narrow construction of his patent. It only covers a certain film-angle technique, not the filming of yoga classes generally, as the Alliance and others seem so intent on to claiming.

Contrary to this outrageous claim, we have precisely described the nature of YogaGlo’s patent applications, and noted specifically that they do not cover “the filming of yoga classes generally”. Have you even read anything that we’ve written about the case?

And Karpel’s own hands are hardly squeaky clean. It turns out that a prominent company on his own governing board is suing a smaller yoga company over an alleged patent infringement, too. You’d think Karpel might try to clean up his own house before engaging in the kind of self-righteous polemics he’s launched at YogaGlo.

I have no idea what you are talking about here. When you make wild allegations like this, perhaps you might also provide the details so others can verify your claims.

But Karpel’s clearly intent on using this dispute to help shore up the Alliance’s credibility with the 10,000+ yoga teachers the group now claims as members. That’s still only 15% of the estimated 70,000 yoga teachers in the US today.

We have over 45,000 yoga teacher members, which is information that you could find pretty easily by looking at our website. And who “estimated” that there are 70,000 yoga teachers in the U.S.? Stewart Lawrence?

-Richard Karpel

***

Mr. Karpel,

I regret that you didn’t enjoy the article. Frankly, given your organization’s exceedingly poor reputation as a service organization of integrity, I would have thought any mention of your current PR efforts would be welcome, frankly.

You complain of inaccuracies. Your entire letter is disingenuous. Of course, you characterized YogaGlo as a bullying monopoly. It’s right there in print in your communications with YogaGlo.

As for the patent, yes, there are abuses, but to suggest that all yoga-related patents are somehow abominable is precisely what the article exposes to scrutiny. You have many many yoga teachers who support YogaGlo, and would love to fashion their own patents. The idea that 99.9% of the yoga community supports your petition is patently false. It just shows how little you actually understand the full range of sentiment inside the yoga world.

I am aware that our website claims 45,000 members. Websites claim maniy things. The 70,000 yoga teacher figure is in wide circulation in the media. Whether that';s even accurate is anyone’s guess. Yoga people are known to make their entire world up — and facts are no obstacles.

You quote the Washington Post as this were an editorial. This is a yoga enthusiast stating his opinion?

My suggestion: Start reading beyond the self-indulgent yoga press — and your own self-serving press releases. There’s a wide world of journalism out there that is not interested in being instrumentalized and manipulated by people like you.

As for “certifying” yoga teachers, you are playing a word game here by claiming you only “register” teachers. The fact is you put the patina of a seal of approval on whatever curricular nonsense has been handed to you by some studio on a piece of paper. And that studio is already a member, so it’s not like you have much interest in determining what they taught or how well. Many of these teachers post on their web sites Certified RYT by Yoga Alliance. You are well aware of this.

The most egregious example I know of personally is the “certification” you issued to a handful of teachers from the notorious Romanian yoga porn cult MISA. I wrote about the group a while back for the Huffington Post. Their faithful leader is being sought by Interpol and their teachers in places like Arizona and Iowa have been ridiculed as fraud by the students I have interviewed. I doubt you would even know that — or apparently much less care.

You have since removed all but one of these teachers from your registry — perhaps because of the article I wrote. There’s a reason we have “”wild” journalists like me.

The basic point of my “ludicrous” article — which you seem to have missed — is that the yoga industry is driving to exploit the online medium without actually reflecting much on what this might mean. The real issue isn’t so much who gets to profit and how — but whether this drive is actually good for yoga consumers or for yoga as a sacred mind-body practice that places such a high premium on presence and authenticity, and which also claims to honor its ancestral roots, and those who, by virtue of their ancestry lay hold to them and clutch them dearly.

I may be wrong that this is an important issue — but it’s certainly a very fair one to raise about a practice — and an industry — that makes such extravagant claims for itself. The fact that you can’t see that is why people like me will keep writing about you.

Please do post this letter on your web site. It should drive a lot more traffic to my own site.

Yours sincerely,

Stewart Lawrence