The yoga business is booming in America; India too


Pizza originated in Italy but now it is a quintessentially American food, with American restaurant chains selling pizzas all over the world. Similarly yoga has its origins in India, but it is now a billion-dollar business in the US and bears little resemblance to the spiritual practice that was first introduced there over a hundred years ago by Swami Vivekananda.

Researchers from Chapman University in the US took a look back at how the practice of yoga has evolved in the US over the past few decades. It is now associated less with spirituality and more with fitness and medicine. The researchers think that the reason for this shift lies in the way yoga gurus are trained as well as the branding practices of both big and small players in the U.S. yoga market.

The study was published in the Journal of Marketing and looked at data from archival sources, such as newspaper articles on yoga published in The New York Times and The Washington Post between 1980 and 2012. Data was also gathered through participant observations and in-depth interviews.

“What we discovered was the U.S. yoga market delineated itself not only in the different types of yoga that emerged, but also in the logic behind why people do yoga,” said Assistant Professor Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, Ph.D., who co-authored the research paper.

Yoga was introduced to the U.S. when Swami Vivekananda gave a speech on Hinduism at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. But yoga didn’t catch on in the U.S. until much later. Initially there was mysticism surrounding the practice, but by the 1960s, people gained a better understanding of the practice. By the 1970s, yoga had established itself in the field of mind-body medicine, where it was used mainly to help youth with drug problems.

Although yoga was initially advocated as a means of cultivating spirituality, people started using it for medical reasons, to manage pain and recover from injury, and for fitness reasons, to condition their bodies and boost their performance in various sports. Health studies on the benefits of yoga helped with a wider adoption of the practice, while in the 1990s, the fitness aspects of yoga also grew. Yoga became more mainstream when companies such as Nike, Apple and HBO started offering on-site yoga classes as a work benefit.

Today, there are more than 20.4 million Americans who practice yoga, from just 4.3 million in 2001. The number of yoga centres has also shot up from 14,058 in 2004 to 26,506 in 2013. And people are spending $10.3 billion every year on yoga classes and equipment, 1.8 times the amount four years ago. Yoga studio chain CorePower has 119 studios across the US and plans to expand to 500.

India is starting to see a business trend as well. Local yoga chains have come up, and the founder of one such chain told The Hindu that the overall market potential is huge, to the tune of $225 billion. He also said that 80% of the clients he sees come in for a physical workout. However, he also says that many of them then seek out the spiritual aspects of yoga as well.

Given the story of pizza chains, coffee shops and e-commerce sites coming into India, expect an American yoga chain to come the local market very soon.

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