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What the Future Holds

Who can predict the future of yoga? No one, of course, but we talk to some experts and make a few serious and not-so-serious prognostications. Take a look at our scenarios and see if they match your own imaginings.

By John Hanc

We're kidding about practicing yoga in your car while getting instructions at a drive-through window, but the business potential of yoga is really no laughing matter—unless you're laughing all the way to the bank.

Already two national chains, Yoga Works and Bikram's Yoga College of India, are changing the business of yoga with their mass merchandising of the discipline—and they're creating a little controversy in the process. Some yogis, like John Schumacher, director of Unity Woods Yoga Center in Washington, D.C.'s metropolitan area, who contributed to the scenario above, worry that rapid growth is diluting the practice and rendering yoga the aerobics of the 21st century. Schumacher fears the result could be what he calls "Stepford yoga ... scripted, bland, devoid of flavor and variation."

Other experts believe the yoga boom has already peaked or will peak soon. "Yoga gets rediscovered every 25 years or so," says Lasater. "There was interest in the late '60s and early '70s, fueled by the Beatles and Maharishi; then it dropped off; then there was a big wave in the mid-'90s. So it could be we're on a downhill trend now."

Carol Scott, president of ECA World Fitness and creative consultant for Equinox Fitness Clubs, doesn't think we're there yet. "I predict at least another three to five years of steady growth for yoga within the fitness industry," she says. Beyond that, Scott foresees yoga remaining part of health club programming, although she adds, "I think it will lose some of its followers and continue to be practiced by more of the true believers."

On the other hand, a mass-market version of yoga could take hold with people who otherwise wouldn't know a breath of prana from a bag of Pringles. And that idea excites Edward Vilga, author of the book and DVD Yoga in Bed (Running Press, 2005). "I'd like to think that in the year 2030 practicing yoga will become like brushing your teeth," he says. "Everyone will do it ... twice a day, I hope."

Sara Ivanhoe's predictions are a bit more modest. "Right now, yoga is practiced mostly by white people from the upper-middle-class who can afford the classes," says this yoga video instructor. By 2030, she hopes it will have found its way "into the red states and into low-income and urban homes." That is the aim of Ivanhoe's latest video, Yoga Live, produced by rap impresario and longtime practitioner Russell Simmons, who hopes to broaden yoga's appeal within the hip-hop culture he helped create. "The world does what the hip-hop kids do," Simmons says. "If hip-hop kids pick up yoga, the world will have to pick it up."

And since the hip-hop kids of today's generation will be in their 40s by the year 2030, maybe the idea of a yoga-practicing president isn't so far-fetched after all. "If we had that," Simmons says, "we'd be a much better country."

Will the spin-offs keep coming, or have we reached the saturation point? Is a backlash imminent? Our experts think this trend could go either way.

Jason Crandell, a San Francisco instructor, says that by continuing to evolve, yoga will actually be true to its past. "The history of yoga is one of interpretation and modification," he says. "I see no reason why practitioners won't continue to be innovative and meld the practice with other things."

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