Sunday 23 November 2014

Real Life: Yoga loses its balance

Disagreements over poses, trademarks, teaching methods -- while yoga continues to grow in popularity, at the same time it's struggling to come to terms with its commercial side

Frenzy: yoga marketing really took off earlier this year following the release of the film 'Eat, Pray, Love', starring Julia Roberts

Yoga teacher Lisa Wilkinson is tense. Since 2004 she has offered hot yoga classes at The Elbow Room in Dublin's Stoneybatter (

Now she has discovered that the trademark for 'hot yoga' in Ireland was registered last year by a Galway studio.

The decision leaves Wilkinson and many other Irish yoga studios in a tricky legal position. By continuing to advertise hot yoga classes - in which students do yoga poses in specially heated rooms - they are potentially infringing the trademark held by Tracey O'Mahoney of Galway Hot Yoga (

Wilkinson, like many other teachers, is annoyed that the trademark was ever awarded.

"Allowing a term like hot yoga to become a trademark is like making 'hot tea' a trademark," says Wilkinson. "Hot yoga has been really popular for years in the US and I've been offering it in Ireland for the last six years. There's nothing unique about it. The room is hot and that's all."


But it's not just Wilkinson and her students who are getting hot and bothered about yoga these days. Irish trademark disputes are the least of it. Throughout the yoga world, tempers are fraying over what many see as the rampant commercialisation of what is supposed to be a spiritual discipline.

The more popular yoga has become, the more money there is to be made. Yoga is a multibillion dollar industry and, despite the recession, it's getting bigger every year.

Americans spend an estimated $5.7bn (€4.25bn) a year on yoga products, 87pc more than they spent in 2004. All the big-name clothing brands have introduced, or are about to introduce, a yoga range. New yoga companies are founded almost weekly, flogging everything from so-called high-performance mats to yoga water bottles costing €15 a pop.

Judith Hanson, founder of the influential magazine 'Yoga Journal', recently lambasted the publication for featuring pictures of naked women advertising yoga socks.

"These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or themselves. They aren't even about the celebration of the beauty of the human body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about selling a product," she wrote.

Yoga marketing reached a frenzy recently with the release of the movie 'Eat, Pray, Love', in which Julia Roberts starred. In it, she discovers inner peace through yoga while wearing what are now the most fashionable yoga brands. Merchandising included necklaces, prayer beads, tea and candles, all flogged on the Home Shopping Network in a 72-hour selling marathon.

Even 'Playboy' magazine has gotten in on the act, flogging a DVD of a naked playmate doing yoga poses. Eminent Hindu statesman Rajan Zed has pleaded with the publishing conglomerate to stop, pointing out that yoga is a revered system in Hindu philosophy. But so far, his words have fallen on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, legal spats are routine. Bikram yoga, a form of hot yoga founded by Bikram Choudury, has aggressively pursued hot yoga teachers through the courts in other jurisdictions. He has also attempted to copyright yoga poses but the Indian government has reacted by creating a database of poses and declaring them the property of the people of India.

Aside from classes, The Yoga Room sells a range of yoga clothes and accessories, including the 'Vogue'-featured clothing range Om Girl, as seen on singer Cher and actress Helen Hunt. The tops alone cost between €50 and €60.

"I suppose my students want to buy into the yoga lifestyle," she says. "Hopefully, they'll keep doing yoga and find more meaning," she adds.

It isn't a big part of her business but it's clearly one which she and presumably some of her students enjoy. "Look, girls like wearing nice clothes," she says.

Irish Independent

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