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We do our best to plan for the future. We chop our weekly allotment of veggies on Sundays, save for an epic trip, and even map out five-year goals.
But when we think about big shifts that will happen in the world at large, our concept of the distant future can get a bit hazy. (If we’re fans of dystopian sci-fi, things might be scary, too.) Will we still have mobile devices to check as soon as we wake up? (Or a sibling to Alexa that will check on us?) What foods will be available at the market? Will Venice still be a destination or the next Atlantis?
And what about the future of yoga? Will yoga classes be taught by robots? Will every studio be virtual? Who will be our leaders and game changers? What will a yoga class look like? Just where does yoga go from here?Section divider
What is “The Future”?
There are professionals who spend their days chipping away at these sorts of questions. They are futurists.
“Usually futurists explore some specific aspect of the future—where are certain things headed for a community, an audience, a demographic, a product?” says Jacob Ellenberg, founder of the meditation program The Curious Self and facilitator for the Guild of Future Architects (GofFA), an organization of experts who envision just and equitable futures. The futurist’s job is to help amplify opportunities and mitigate risk.
They forecast scenarios that may take place in the next 10 years and beyond, but they don’t claim to “predict” the future. They look at trends and map out plausible options based on probability. And they’re the first to admit that they may get it wrong. There’s always the chance that a wild card can come along and either disrupt everything or accelerate innovation. (COVID-19 did both.)
History rhyming with itself
Future thinking isn’t just gazing forward. Futurists look to the past and observe the present to get a glimpse into the future. History doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but the past informs the future. “It’s about finding the patterns, making sure you’re catching every time history has rhymed with itself,” says Madebo Fatunde, a foresight strategist at the GofFA.
Therefore yoga’s ancient origins—as well as its journey to the West—must be factored into future thinking, says Susanna Barkataki, author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice and founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute. “We’re looking at thousands of years of history,” she says. “What does it mean to look forward with that amount of historical depth behind us?”
If the past forecasts what’s to come, yoga’s future is enduring. “It keeps getting passed through time,” says Ellenberg.
The future is co-created
When we think of the future, we may think of scientists plotting out new technologies and innovations. But we all play a role. “There’s no blueprint for the future. We’re all figuring this out together,” says Ellenberg.
How will we endow yoga to future generations? Anjali Rao, a yoga teacher and social justice activist, says, “I want us to practice yoga in a way that’s purposeful, honest, and compassionate, so we can heal all our relationships—to ourselves, each other, and the Earth.”
Here’s how other yoga teachers, industry leaders, thinkers, and technologists envision the future of yoga.Section divider
Advances in technology
The metaverse will take therapy to the next level
Julio Rivera (he/him) CEO and founder of Liberate
These days, people substitute social media for real intimacy and they wind up feeling isolated, Rivera says. Plus, the ongoing saga of pandemic, war, and sociopolitical upheaval has taken a toll on our psyches.
Rivera believes technology can provide a refuge. He created Liberate, a meditation app to help Black practitioners find peace. Now, he sees the potential of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the metaverse to take that a step further. He says that the right people in a virtual room together can cocreate a healing experience.
Rivera has been experimenting with merging his own therapy with VR. “I’ve been building safe spaces for my inner child on my Oculus,” he says. He can envision enlisting the guidance of a trauma-informed psychotherapist to help him carefully recreate a traumatic experience in this virtual world— and then rewrite the story.
Rivera cites research suggesting that the sound of your mother’s voice (depending on your relationship with her) can reduce stress. He envisions a custom yoga or meditation practice guided by a voice that sounds like someone you love, where your biometrics are monitored by wearable, implanted, and ambient devices. “It’s super powerful,” he says. “It could really help people level their nervous systems in the overwhelming, fast-paced world we live in.”
Biofeedback will be everywhere
Jacob Ellenberg (he/him) meditation scholar and teacher, and founder of the Curious Self
The popularity of hacking our health through biofeedback has given rise to a wide array of wearable tech. Health-monitoring devices like Fitbit have evolved; now the Oura Ring, a titanium band outfitted with sensors, monitors your heart rate, body temperature, sleep, and menstrual cycle.
“Assuming that the technologies continue getting smaller, they will get so small that they may be built into fabrics, or even be on our person,” Ellenberg says. Yes, he means chips and other implantables under our skin. Sounds futuristic, but the technology is already used for medical purposes, such as controlling prosthetic limbs or monitoring the tremors of people with Parkinson’s disease. Next: computer chips implanted in your brain for therapeutic purposes or to enhance cognition, and environmental sensors so sensitive they can recognize and measure your emotional state.
Ellenberg says these advances are already raising privacy questions, philosophical debates, and ethical conundrums. As a meditation teacher, he says it’s much less a question of whether we should or shouldn’t use a piece of technology. “It’s more of a question of whether it is helping me become more conscious—or am I just fiddling with one more thing throughout the day?” Ultimately, even the most sophisticated sensors and devices can’t hold a candle to the billions of years of the evolution of our nervous system. “The nervous system is, hands down, the most sophisticated piece of matter,” he says.
Blockchain will rewrite old business models
Aimée Tañón [she/her], Netherlands-based yoga therapist and blockchain developer
“The last 30 years have been about making yoga a business model, which deteriorates the healing essence of yoga,” says Tañón. “Blockchain is going to change all that.”
What, exactly, is blockchain? It’s a virtual list of records that store all types of information. As each piece of data is added to the ledger, a new “block” is created and added to the “chain.” The technology is decentralized and transparent and has a smart contract written into the code. Cryptocurrencies trade on blockchain; the metaverse and other Web3 tech is built on it.
Within the yoga community, Tañón says trainings and the certification process can be hosted on blockchain, where your credentials will be permanently recorded. You can track and authenticate the curriculum and content of a yoga school or studio. Tañón says this will not only allow students to find qualified yoga teachers and yoga therapists, but also offer South Asian teachers a way to reclaim their ancient tradition since the origin of the teachings will be permanently recorded and protected. Blockchain believers insist that the technology will usher us into a new culture based on transparency, accountability, and democratization
“The ethos of this technology is authenticity, provenance, and ownership,” says Tañón. “Making yoga programs publicly available would do away with centralized bodies that want to govern or regulate. Studios and schools will be held accountable. We’ll move to a space where the community manages the decisions being agreed to or not.”
This requires buy-in from individuals and communities. Critics warn that the blockchain vision is selling a myth and, at worst, is ripe for fraudulent practices. And if yoga teachers want to practice ahimsa (nonharming), they will have to look at the sustainability impact of the system—it is notoriously energy hungry—and find avenues to offset that carbon footprint.
Web3 will steer us toward collective care
Zizi Zhang [she/her], cofounder of WellnessDAO
The pandemic exacerbated a worldwide mental-health crisis; now more people need treatment in a system that was already severely overtaxed.
WellnessDAO, a decentralized Web3 community, will offer members incentives (crypto assets ortokens) for their acts of self-care and community care— both in the virtual and physical realm. “We want to create a future in which people think of wellness as a social accountability mechanism instead of a solo practice,” says Zhang.
Zhang believes younger generations will usher in this critical paradigm shift: While members of Gen Z are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, they are also most likely to report that they have received therapy. People who learn about emotional intelligence from a young age— and aren’t already caught up in the constraints of capitalism— will bring about a future that is very different, says Zhang. “I feel excited and hopeful.”Section divider
Yoga and health
Rest will be respected everywhere
Tracee Stanley (she/her) author of Radiant Rest: Yoga Nidra for Deep Relaxation & Awakened Clarity and founder of Empowered Life Circle
Five years ago, Stanley predicted that rest would move into the mainstream. Now, nap memes are wallpapering Instagram. Expect the trend to continue, she says.
“In the future, we’ll be more aware of our own natural rhythms for cues on when to be productive and when to rest— which will be taken into account by employers,” she says. “People will start taking long rest breaks to rejuvenate themselves and fuel their creativity.”
And she believes rest retreats and other yoga events will pop up in the metaverse. Rather than flying to Crete or Bali, you’ll be able to slip on virtual reality glasses and practice alongside avatars on a virtual platform overlooking a gorgeous (simulated) blue sea.
While there are metaverse skeptics among yoga devotees, Stanley thinks yoga folks should be involved in building it.“I would rather have these spaces informed by tradition and people steeped in the practice of embodied wisdom, rather than it being commercialized,” Stanley says.
Health care will tap into the wholeness of yoga
Jesal Parikh (she/they) yoga teacher, movement educator, and cohost of Yoga Is Dead podcast
Science has proven the efficacy of yoga; today, it’s being used in healthcare settings for mental and physical therapy. “Yoga has become highly medicalized,” Parikh says. “Yet the intangible spiritual aspects that give yoga its healing and transformative power get discounted.” The medical model of yoga is missing what she calls “the magic of holistic healing.”
“I would like to see a future where people can experience the whole of this spiritual modality,” Parikh says.
When yoga gets conformed to a Western medical model, aspects of it get appropriated— such as pranayama being rebranded as Cardiac Coherence Breathing. Teachers and practitioners lose a sense of the legacy and origins of the practices; they may have no idea about the traditional benefit. In an ideal future, the origins of yoga-based healing modalities would be acknowledged.
Yoga will be a balm for older adults
Carol Krucoff (she/her) yoga therapist and co-director of the Integrative Yoga for Seniors Professional Training at Duke Integrative Medicine
By 2060, the number of Americans 85 and older is expected to triple—from 6.5 million to 19 million people. Yet a basic 200-hour yoga teacher training doesn’t cover the complex health conditions and physical vulnerabilities that are common in this growing population. “Additional trainings to learn how to teach yoga to older adults are going to be huge,” Krucoff says. She also predicts that classes will start integrating more simple breath awareness and “turning-inward” practices for emotional regulation and energy management.Section divider
Disabled yoga teachers will shift our consciousness
Matthew Sanford (he/him) founder of Mind Body Solutions and author of Waking: a Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence
Sanford wants teachers and practitioners to grasp the reciprocal relationship at the heart of yoga. Non-disabled practitioners, he says, should view their disabled peers not just as inspiration but as leaders who demonstrate an extraordinary amount of patience, determination, and wisdom. Embodying the lessons their experiences teach would expand awareness among all of us.
“Becoming more connected to your body helps you become more compassionate, which transforms how you relate to your life—which can have social, political, and environmental implications,” Sanford says.
We’ll correct our relationship with yoga’s roots
Susanna Barkataki [she/her] author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice, and founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute
For Barkataki, looking ahead means repairing the harms of the past. Yoga’s place in the West was filtered through colonialism in India and shaped by anti-Asian policies in the U.S., she says. Cultural. appropriation and commercialization of the practice further marginalized South Asian voices.
“Instead of erasing indigenous modalities of understanding, center them. I’m already seeing more teachers from South Asian cultures taking up space, sharing their perspectives, and bringing forward their leadership,” she says. Her hope is that teachers and practitioners learn more about the full expanse of yoga. “I’d like for us all to start our classes with spiritual lineage acknowledgments, the same way we offer [Indigenous] land acknowledgments.”
There will be higher standards for yoga teachers
Matthew Remski (he/him) cohost of Conspirituality Podcast and author of Practice and All Is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics and Healing in Yoga and Beyond
Remski believes that in order to solve some of the most toxic aspects of yoga culture, yoga teachers will need to be regulated in the same way psychotherapists and massage therapists are—through a public health framework. Creating higher educational standards around certification— and offering the practice through public institutions with research-backed guidelines and human resources departments—could help stem some of the abuse and misinformation that have affected yoga communities.
Black teachers will tap into the Spirit of yoga
Jana Long (she/her) cofounder, Black Yoga Teachers’ Alliance and producer of the Uncommon Yogi video
“I believe the participation of more Black yoga practitioners is the future of yoga,” says Long. Census projections suggest that the Black population is expected to grow 41 percent from 2016 to 2060. “The pandemic lifted the veil on the inequities of the healthcare system, and many Black people in this country are finding their way to yoga because they are seeking ways to manage acute and chronic health conditions.”
With more Black teachers and practitioners, Long sees asana- based yoga evolving into a more holistic practice that integrates the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. Black teachers are particularly attuned to tapping into the spiritual aspects of the practice, she says. “From the time our ancestors were brought here, all Black people have had is Spirit,” says Long, who emphasizes that being spiritual doesn’t mean being passive or complacent; being spiritual can be a strength.
Long also believes that Black elders will help the next guard of teachers carry forward the truth of yoga: that it’s something more than a commercialized practice.
Studio collectives will create spaces for community
Noha Arafa (they/she) human rights attorney and cofounder of Trans Yoga Project
Arafa sees a future where more BIPOC, queer, trans, neurodivergent, and disabled folks run their own studios. “They can create specifically curated spaces to feel safe, joyful, and held by community,” says Arafa. Studio collectives, in which ownership is shared, are already gaining popularity—and can make ownership accessible for people who have been locked out of traditional yoga business models. “I feel like collectivism is the direction the future will take. I believe we have enough resources in the world to meet all of our needs,” Arafa says.
Teaching styles will shift
Jivana Heyman (He/him), founder and director of Accessible Yoga and author of Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion
“Sadly, so much abuse has happened in the name of yoga, and through so many lineages,” says Heyman. “Looking at how awareness of this abuse has grown in the last few years, I predict that, in the future, yoga teachers will be held accountable for practicing yoga ethics.” The good news is that authoritarian teaching styles are already giving way to contemporary approaches, such as trauma-informed yoga, that give students more agency in their practice.
Yogic and Indigenous wisdom will secure a sustainable legacy
Jessica Barudin (she/her), Kwakwaka’wakw, co-director of the First Nations Women’s Yoga Initiative, and Indigenous Health scholar
“We must be conscious that everything we do in this lifetime must leave a legacy to sustain our future generations,” Barudin says. She believes that returning to traditional yoga practices that honor yoga’s origins, and turning toward Indigenous wisdom will help us navigate the intersections of racial, social, and environmental justice in ways that don’t create further harm. This is especially important as scientists warn that we must act now to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. She says returning land to Indigenous nations that have been stewards of the Earth will move the work of sustainability and renewal forward.
On an individual level, yoga can prepare us for that work. “A healthy connection to our bodies, minds, and spirits is an act of responsibility and resistance against the harms that are continually perpetuated by industries, institutions, and the dominant society,” says Barudin.
Wondering who’s who in the compelling collage illustrations by Vanessa Compton? Here’s info on more teachers, leaders, and activists who are shaping the yoga community.
About our contributor
Deanna Michalopoulos (she/her) is a writer, editor, and digital content strategist based on unceded Lenape and Canarsie land known as Brooklyn.
From Summer 2022