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Yoga, Inc.

Is the bustling business of yoga—a practice rooted in renunciation and greedlessness—good karma?

By Russell Wild

The End of a Trend?
Whether you are stressed or impressed by the commercial success of yoga, you probably have an interest in what the experts say about the future of yoga and the yoga business. One thing can be said for certain: "It is always a big mistake to look at a current trend and project it into the future," says George Mason economist Iannaccone. "Because yoga has been growing in leaps and bounds, that does not mean that by the year 2050, we'll all be yogis. Some people will never be interested in anything having to do with health or Eastern spirituality."

Iannaccone points to an example of the foolishness of projecting trends: "When nearly one million Promise Keepers [followers of the men's evangelical movement] descended on Washington for a massive rally in October of 1997, some pundits said it would in time surely become a 'Two-Million Man March' and then a 'Three-Million Man March.' Some were thrilled and saw it as the dawn of a new Christian America. Others were less than enthusiastic and saw America turning into a Nazi state. But neither side's vision came to pass," says Iannaccone. "The truth was that the Promise Keepers movement had reached its peak right at that point. They had reached their limit."

So when might yoga do likewise? Barry Minkin, author of Future in Sight: The 100 Most Important Global Business Trends (Macmillan, 1995) and a global management consultant to companies such as PepsiCo, Pillsbury, and Ford Motors, says that the rapid growth of yoga and the yoga business is closely tied to other trends in America. He cites the recent growth of interest in fitness, Eastern culture, and the mind-body connection, as well as the aging of the population and the emphasis that groups like the American Academy of Sports Medicine have put on maintaining flexibility. Because of this interconnectedness, it is difficult to say when the trend might reverse, says Minkin. But he estimates that a peak might come within 10 years, with the number of yoga practitioners having risen to about 20 percent greater than the current number.

Why then? Because Minkin already sees signs that the trend is maturing. One sign is what he calls "fragmentation." It happens almost inevitably when any trend starts to mature. "The providers of the good or service feel a need to differentiate themselves, to market in different ways." He points out that when martial arts first came to the United States, it was basically judo. Then we got karate. Today, there is practically a different form of martial art taught in every strip mall. Similarly, when Elvis first started plucking and strutting, there were only a few passionate followers and one kind of rock 'n' roll. Later, when practically everyone in the country under 30 called himself a rock fan, rock was divided into categories like hard rock, soft rock, heavy metal, bubblegum, and punk. When the yoga trend started to take off in America back in the '60s and '70s, most of the growth was in hatha yoga, a la Iyengar. Today, the number of yoga offshoots seems infinite. "I teach at the Yoga Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Across the street is a fitness center where they have recently started to offer Boga classes. Boga? A combination of yoga and boxing. No kidding," says George McFaul, a hatha yoga teacher. "We often hear the exhortations to 'push it, harder' coming out of the windows over their extremely loud sound system." (Interestingly, the Sanskrit word bhoga refers to the enjoyment of worldly pleasures and is in opposition to the ascetic ethics of some schools of yoga.)

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Reader Comments


Laura Pellegrini - the article was written in November 2002. I was annoyed they didn't write it at the top - how are people meant to reference it? But a bit of Google digging worked out fine.

Laura Pellegrini

Can anybody please tell me when this article was written? Year/Month? Thanks!

Rara Avis

I must say that I strongly disagree with the content of some of the ads that Yoga Journal chooses to put in their magazine.

I fully understand the amount of cash flow involved in selling ad space, as I myself have looked into advertising in YJ and was blown away by how expensive it was.

Being that your magazine is profiting so highly from the yoga movement, you'd think you'd have the integrity to be a little more selective with the kind of adds you place in your mag.

It turns the real yogis off immediately... and I can honestly say that I wouldn't recommend your magazine to anyone truly interested in a spiritual approach to life.

Between the Mantra bling, and the Tantra boom, it's hard to find a place for the truly sacred when you're constantly being bombarded with shallow, poorly conceived messages that tell you to buy a product just because some plastic looking yoga babe tells you to.

I discovered yoga about 14 years ago while seeking further depth in my music career and also trying to find ways to heal from a devastating car accident. My roots in yoga had nothing to do with advertising or marketing, as I was thankfully guided by my intuition and graced by spirit with an amazing teacher to begin my practice with.

I truly hope that you find it in your collective hearts to start being more sensitive to what yoga really is and in doing so stop taking money from the highest bidder and instead have some self respect and think about how your audience is perceiving themselves and the 'spiritual' catch phrases on almost every page.

Come on people! The world is changing and it's time to wake up... no more profit without a truly conscious approach. Get out of the business office and back onto the yoga mat... perhaps there you will find some integrity.

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