In the late 19th century, Swami Vivekananda brought yoga to the United States from India as part of an overall move that raised the status of Hinduism. At the time, however, yogaâ€™s popularity remained modest; he gave lectures on Hinduism and yoga to small groups, primarily those who were already interested in alternative spirituality.
When we take the long view, however, Vivekanandaâ€™s work was transformative, and he is regularly recognized by major Indian leaders as someone who elevated the status of Hinduism and the Indian nation. He may also be responsible for creating one of the currently fastest growing industries in the US and launching the modern yoga revolution. But why now?
The Rise of Yoga
The number of yoga practitioners in the United States varies depending on your source and what criteria (such as frequency of participation) you include in the calculations, but one thing thatâ€™s undisputed is that the yoga market is growing rapidly. According to one study, for example, the total number of practitioners has grown by 20% each year over the past five years. More than a century after itâ€™s introduction, yoga has entered a golden era.
One of the reasons yoga is so popular today may be the increase in college-educated individuals. People with college degrees are far more likely to practice yoga than those with only a high school education. Additionally, a shift in how we understand yoga â€“ not as a spiritual practice, but rather as one that supports physical health â€“ has made the activity more appealing to a larger audience.
Finally, an aging population may also be driving the growth of yoga. In a different survey, researchers found that nearly 14 million yoga practitioners in the US are over age 50. Yoga is much gentler on the body than activities like running, and it can help older individuals maintain their range of motion and build and preserve strength and muscle mass.
Follow the Flow
Not only are Americans practicing yoga at home and at local studios, yoga retreats are also a huge part of this growing market â€“ serious yogis will go just about anywhere to work with top teachers or further develop their practice or experience a unique setting. Retreats are also an opportunity to get away from the stressors of daily life.
International yoga retreats, like the growing international tourism market in general, are also very popular today, and that includes destinations beyond the expected â€“ think those who head to India to connect with the roots of yoga. Costa Rice, for example, is a very popular yoga destination, as is Thailand. You can also find retreats in far-flung places as Australia and Croatia.
Outgrowths of Yoga
In many regards, Swami Vivekananda would not recognize yoga today as the practice he introduced to the US over a century ago. In fact, he might not even recognize it on its home turf. A quick visit to the Yoga World Festival in Malappuram, India reveals that in addition to traditional forms, the global yoga market is growing because of associated practices like Acro Yoga that involve feats of balance with two people or even the unusual format that is laughter yoga. Yoga is not only growing, but itâ€™s evolving with its practitioners.
Yoga is a living practice, one that adapts to the needs of those who engage with it, and itâ€™s important to acknowledge not just the flexibility of its practitioners, but of the practice itself.
To look beyond the traditional flow and basic asana is to discover a whole new world of yoga.