From the Mountain to Wall Street
Gone are the days of the loin clothed yogi meditating alone on a mountaintop, unless of course said loin cloth is made of wickable polyester blend, fits your body like a glove and retails for $100 a pop and the yogi in question has worldwide appearances and a DVD series purchasable on Amazon.com. Oh, and don’t forget to check their Twitter feed.
In the ancient tradition of yoga, a teacher’s modest living requirements were provided by their students. “Some may offer the teacher a bag of rice, a small bowl of sugar, some clothes, a place to rest, whatever one’s capacity was,” said Sister Sukanya of the spiritual organization Brahma Kumaris. “The teacher just shares the knowledge with the students... there was no commercial interest involved, the only interest was the transferring of knowledge.”
Fast forward to present day where yoga in the West is a booming industry. Generating $7 billion in revenue according to a recent IBIS World report, with nearly 16 million or 7 precent of U.S. adults practicing and another 18 million or 8 percent of non-practicing adults stating they are extremely interested in trying it, according to Yoga Journal, and close to 70,000 certified teachers in the U.S. based on a 2005 study by North American Studio Alliance, and almost 26,000 studios counted by IBIS and major media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and Inc. Magazine, write about the popularity of teaching yoga as a career choice and you get the point: Yoga is big business.
Mainstream. Commercial. Sellout. Whatever you want to call it, yoga has achieved the level of infamous popularity, mainstream accessibility and frantic commercialization in the West to earn the title.
So what happens next in a world where yoga is being used to sell everything from yogurt, air fresheners, pain killers and cars? Has commercialization diluted the practice to the point of triviality, becoming just another easily bought, packaged and sterilized commodity?
In other words, has yoga lost its soul?
Hardly. On the contrary, there is plenty of room for innovation and authenticity that can help retain and expand the art of the craft, even amidst the commercial reality yoga currently resides in, you just have to know where (and how) to look.
Open Source Yoga
Nowadays, you can practice yoga not only at a yoga studio, but also at your local gym, office, school, hotel, grassy meadow and even at hospitals, in private homes and increasingly in prisons.
This proliferation of venues mirrors an increase of new yoga styles emerging in the West including laughter yoga, chair yoga, acro yoga, partner yoga, hiking yoga and dog yoga (that’s actual dog as in canine, not downward dog) to go along with the more established, popular modern era styles including Power Yoga, Jivamukti and Bikram.
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