Yoga in 2008 and Beyond

Yoga Journal has just released the results from their latest market study on yoga in America. The study includes numerous components from consumer spending to why people are practicing yoga, and provides some insight on the trends in yoga today.Surprisingly, the overall number of practitioners has lowered from 16.5 million in 2004 to 15.8 million, but the spending habits of current practitioners have increased by 87 percent to $5.7 billion dollars a year. Yoga as an industry is exploding, and now we have the numbers to prove it.

The rise in spending, though the number of practitioners has declined, is contributed to the fact that those who are choosing yoga now, are creating a lifestyle, not simply an exercise. That bodes well for the future of yoga, if lifestyle means following the ancient teachings, maintaining health, and moving through the world compassionately and honestly. But is yoga as a lifestyle more about the style than the life?

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The figures account for studio and class revenue, as well as clothing, music, vacations, and other products. Yoga has become the current “catch phrase” and succeeds in selling everything from books to snack bars. Is it ethical to use a practice based in things like service to others (seva), non-greed (aparigraha), and contentment (samtosha) to sell products and glean a profit?

This doubling of dollars is an interesting reflection of our Western approach to all things, even a 5000 year old spiritual practice. Western minds are skilled at utilizing the revered to support the growing profit margin, and not through the practice of puja and prayer. The Yoga Journal article even sites the growth in its own business with a marked increase in circulation and paid subscriptions, and with record breaking ad sales in the first two issues of 2008. We have officially turned yoga into a most successful marketing tool and a global enterprise.

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Hey, that’s what we do. Americans take a good thing and exploit it, right? So what impact will this “business” of yoga have on the future of the practice itself? Perhaps it will allow it to expand in new and undiscovered ways. Maybe it will allow it to evolve as all living traditions do, to change and adapt with the times. Yoga would not be what it is today without revolutionary addition of women to the practice. Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the teacher of Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar, was one of the first to bring his teachings to women. Before this time, the practice of yoga was taught exclusively to men, who today make up only 27.8% of the current practitioners. Where would yoga be today without this evolution?

Conversely, we could find that the teachings become watered down. The authenticity of the practice compromised. Yoga could evolve into the latest Pop fad, and many say it already has. So as teachers and dedicated students of this ancient living tradition, we can be holders of the torch. Encouraging wise evolution, respect for the practice and right attitude. I’ve often thought what a difference it would make if the whole world practiced yoga, and if the trend is moving in that direction, we can support it instead of exploit it.

What do you wish for the future of yoga?

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