The Globalization of Yoga

Published on August 28, 2012

Globalization: A term so widely used as to be virtually
meaningless, it nonetheless captures the process by which modern yoga has
spread, from east to west and back again. Today yoga caters to a cadre of
practitioners spanning continents and counting tens of millions of adherents.
In this two-part series, we will discuss the globalization of hatha yoga with
particular relevance to Asia and implications of yoga practice for
musculoskeletal health in different cultures/ethnicities.

postural yoga started as a fusion of European gymnastics and selected hatha
yoga principles in the early twentieth century
, posits Mark Singleton. Around
this time, yoga was exported to the US from India by Vivekananda and
others, experiencing several waves of popularity before arriving at its current
ubiquity. As yoga has exponentially grown in the west, it’s
been re-exported to India
igniting a nationalistic fervor, despite
many modern forms being inextricably infused with western cultural norms

(for instance, new age spirituality; positive thinking; pursuit of
perfectionism and beauty/youth). Arguably, modern postural yoga, as were its
initial iterations, is an evolution reflecting more of the current cultural
context than anything ancient and enduring. Yet while the interpretation and meaning of yoga may have changed, many of
the gymnastics, Indian martial arts, and actual yoga-derived postures have not.
What does this mean for a global practice?

Today, yoga is practiced in many nations across the globe,
including the Far East. China, dubbed
“the new yoga superpower” by Yoga International magazine,
has around 10
million practitioners (about 16 million Americans practice). “Yoga went to
China via America,” according to one of B.K.S. Iyengar’s leading disciples,
Faeq Biria, who routinely trains students in Beijing. “They see it from an American
point of view. At first, they’re attracted by the byproducts: to be pretty, to
digest well, sleep well, have a nice body, be intelligent, unstressed. It’s
hard work to take them toward the deeper aspects.” Shares one studio owner,
“yoga is a symbol of the outside world. Like thin women on the beach.” As in
the US, yoga fits well there with the thirst for success. Yet Indian teachers
are in increasing demand, with some advocates for yoga’s deeper teachings
making inroads.

another reason yoga has become so popular in China
and other Asian
cultures: it fits well with indigenous healing systems and
spirituality/philosophy, from Taoist tai chi to Traditional Asian Medicine,
Buddhism, and Confucianism. Yet Taoist tai chi is gentle, soothing, and
rhythmic to facilitate a deeper connection to chi; most modern yoga conjures
images of pretzels, headstands, and other gymnastics, reminiscent of the competitive
environment in which it’s marinated. Thus, in a sign of the times, “hip Hong Kongers would rather splurge $35 on a flow class
than flow [tai chi] with their grannies.”

Do you think the effects of globalization on yoga are
primarily positive, negative or neither?

Part II: East and West Collide: Musculoskeletal implications
of yoga in different cultural contexts

Share with


Our Latest

Yoga Articles
  • gratitude breathing exercise

    Elevate Your Spirit With a Gratitude Breathwork Practice

  • Hot Yoga at Home

    Can You Practice Hot Yoga at Home?

  • Saying Thank You to a Yoga Teacher

    12 Ways to Say Thank You to a Yoga Teacher

  • Yoga for Thanksgiving

    Yoga for Thanksgiving: 10 Asanas for Gratitude

  • Siddhis

    Siddhis: Definition, Types, Tips and Dangers

  • Spiritual Health and Wellness

    12 Yogic Ways to Cultivate Spiritual Health and Wellness

  • Bhakti Yoga

    Bhakti Yoga: the Yoga of Devotion

  • Sri Yantra

    Sri Yantra: Meaning, Symbolism, and Benefits

Remove Ads with a

Premium Membership

Viewing ads supports YogaBasics, which allows us to continue bringing you quality yoga content. Sign up for a premium membership to remove all ads and enjoy uninterrupted access to the best yoga resources on the web.

Explore More

Yoga TipsAdviceArticlesPracticesBasicsTechniques

  • yoga balance tips

    The Best Tips to Boost Your Balance in Yoga

  • Live a Yogic Lifestyle

    How to Live a Yogic Lifestyle

  • Techniques to Transform a Negative Mind

    6 Yogic Techniques to Transform a Negative Mind

  • sun salutation yoga pose

    6 Reasons to Practice Daily Sun Salutations

  • Morning Yoga Routine

    9 Ways to Boost Your Morning Yoga Routine

  • yoga emotional eating

    How to Prevent Emotional Eating Using Yoga

  • Yoga Styles defined

    Yoga Styles: One Word Definitions

  • Practice yoga fast or slow

    Fast or Slow? How to Find Your Yoga Flow

  • Standing Balance Poses tips

    The Duality of Standing Balance Poses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tosca Park Avatar
About the author
Tosca Park, a 200-hour Kripalu Yoga instructor and 500-hour Integrative Yoga Therapist, is a doctoral student in Clinical Health Psychology at the University of Connecticut, where she conducts research on yoga, mindfulness, and health with her mentor, Dr. Crystal Park, and collaborators. Prior to UConn Tosca spent five years as a research intern and project manager with Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, an organization devoted to the scientific study of yoga-based curricula. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Reed College and SUNY Empire State College in history and health psychology, respectively, and has more than 2,000 hours of training in yoga, Ayurveda, and the mind-body connection.
Yoga Basics