Yoga, Inc.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.)