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Yoga Trends

What the Future Holds

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It’s late morning in September 2030 and you’re watching the news on your
holographic television as you get ready for work.

“The president left the White House today for his weekend yoga retreat at Camp David,” the announcer says, as a three-dimensional image of the chief executive in Triangle Pose materializes on your living room floor. “A minor diplomatic flap ensued when the Russian prime minister, who is to visit the president at the retreat, insisted on a Bikram class. White House aides hastily installed extra solar heating panels in the Camp David studio.”

You glance at the chronometer on the screen: It’s 8:30 a.m. But, then again, who really cares about time anymore? Most companies, including yours, long ago adopted a “get here when you can … but get here knowing who you truly are” policy.

The announcer continues as your dry ionic shower cleanses you. “In business news, yoga-rapper Sits Bone announced the formation of a new company, Downward Facing Dawg Productions, with a group of fellow musicians, including Warrior 4, Sal. U. Tation, and members of the yogic heavy-metal group Irongar.”

You make a note to buy some shares of that stock, asthe weather forecast comes on. “We’ll be letting go of that tense, pent-up moisture in our atmosphere in the next few days,” says the meteorologist.

Before leaving for the office, there’s one more thing to do before you go: You ask your voice-activated recorder to capture this morning’s edition of your favorite soap opera, the new yogic ratings grabber, More Than One Life to Live. (Today’s episode: Vidhya confronts Sanjeeb about stealing her mat.) You command the TV to turn off, take a deep breath, and head out the door.

The world is full of prana, you think. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

Is this where yoga in America is headed in 25 years? To an era when a 4,000-year-old discipline has become so fully integrated into 21st-century culture that politicians will cater to the yoga electorate for votes, the fast-growing franchise Yoga Works will be as ubiquitous as Starbucks, and an obese, sedentary society will climb out of its recliners to stand Tadasana tall?

OK, so we don’t really expect yoga to have totally conquered and colonized every aspect of American life by 2030. But it may indeed play a much larger role in our culture than it does today. To find out how big a role, we asked some yoga experts to help us predict how current trends will play out 25 years down the road. Join us as we look into the crystal ball.

The truth is that, while Loyola Marymount and a few other accredited colleges and universities offer yoga classes or teaching certifications, much of the yoga taught today is offered either through specialized nonaccredited schools or yoga and fitness organizations.

Research into yoga, on the other hand, is increasing: Elizabeth Yost Hammer, associate professor of psychology at Loyola University in New Orleans and a yoga practitioner, says she found 670 citations of recent studies in psychology alone that involved yoga, many of them inquiring into the benefits of yoga for drug recovery, insomnia, and depression. Such a groundswell of research is the basis of academic scholarship in any discipline-and could eventually lead to greater acceptance of yoga as a field of study.

“Higher education evolves as knowledge and human needs evolve,” says Alexandra Logue, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs and provost at the New York Institute of Technology. “For example, almost no one had heard of neuroscience 25 years ago. But now it’s considered one of the hottest fields around. It evolved as a blend of psychology, anatomy, medicine, and other disciplines.” Something similar could happen to the study of yoga, Logue believes, “most likely as part of a blend of tai chi and various martial arts.”

Of course, many doctors already recommend yoga to their patients. Several well-respected health institutions and wellness centers are fully incorporating yoga into their programs, and some health insurers even recognize it as part of preventive health.

By 2030, yoga therapy, in which yoga is prescribed to treat specific health problems, will be recognized as a legitimate part of medical practice, predicts Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., who is a physical therapist, the president of the California Yoga Teachers Association, and a yoga teacher since 1971.

Will your doctor in 2030 tell you to take two asanas and call in the morning? “I hope not,” says Michael Lee, founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, “because everyone is unique, and yoga therapy deals with that uniqueness.”

That tension—between the eclectic nature of yoga and the demand for standards—lies at the heart of this debate. “My concern,” says Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute based in Maui, “is that yoga therapy either won’t be controlled and whoever wants to say they’re a yoga therapist can be one, or that standards will
be established by people who don’t really understand it.”

Integrative medicine leader Andrew Weil, M.D., is hopeful that yoga will become a more integral part of western medicine. “I wish more health professionals today were aware of therapeutic yoga as an option they can recommend, one that may be more effective and have fewer side effects than conventional therapies,” he says. “By 2030, as the popularity of yoga continues to increase in our society, I would think this will certainly happen.”

Already yoga is moving out of the studio and into schools, prisons, corporate offices, and hospitals. How much further will it penetrate American life? Will it replace the traditional seventh-inning stretch? Maybe not, but Shiva Rea, a vinyasa instructor in Los Angeles, thinks yoga will become part of the landscape at airports, where people with jangled nerves and stiff bodies tend to congregate. “There are already chapels in airports and hospitals,” she says. “So why not a place for practicing yoga, as well?”

Indeed, society is not likely to get any less stressful in years to come,
so perhaps there will even be a series of “yoga zones” in office buildings: quiet places set aside for downtime. Or perhaps, Lasater suggests, the oxygen bars now popular in Tokyo will evolve into yoga bars in New York, where busy Manhattanites, Yankee fans or not, can wind down.

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.”

Sonic Yoga NYC co-director Jonathan Fields (who suggested some of the futuristic hybrids) agrees. “I don’t see a backlash against hybridization but more of an evolution toward more complementary partners, such as the martial arts, tai chi, and qi gong,” he says.

Rod Stryker, who founded Pure Yoga and lives in Aspen, Colorado, is less sanguine. “I think we’re going to exhaust the hybridization of yoga in the next 5 or 10 years,” he says. “There’s only so many of these you can come up with.”

Then again, he’s never tried Yoguba.

It’s unlikely yoga will be outlawed in 25 years, but there has been resistance to it from different religious quarters. Some fundamentalist Christian ministers,
suspicious of its Hindu associations, discourage their followers from practicing it. Other religious leaders caution that yoga puts undue emphasis on the body, to the detriment of the soul.

Jill Ross, co-owner of Collage Video in Minneapolis—one of the country’s largest exercise video dealers—says one of her seasonal employees quit after learning that Collage stocked yoga videos. “She was a born-again Christian,” Ross says. “She told me her minister said yoga was evil.”

Of course, many devout Christians practice yoga regularly and see no contradiction in the two. “I strongly suspect yoga’s trajectory will go in the opposite direction,” says Stephen Cope, director of the Institute for Extraordinary Living at Kripalu Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. “Our culture has been interested in the health and fitness benefits but will gradually come to understand and admire the way yoga transforms all aspects of life.” Still, there may be problems in the short term. “But I believe that in 25 years, mainstream religion will have come to see that the purpose of yoga is not to create converts or take them away from Christianity or any other religion … that the real intent of yoga is to help them develop a sense of clarity, health, and well-being in their lives,” Stryker says.

And if we’re lucky, we’ll see Sharon Gannon’s prediction come true. “By the year 2030,” says the co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga Center in New York City, “I like to think the yogis now practicing will be much more enlightened and will help save our planet from destruction.”

John Hanc is a contributing writer at Newsday and the author of five books, including The Essential Runner (Lyons, 1994).