Where the Ascetic Meets the Athletic
The story of yoga in America, as many journalists have pointed out, is the story of assimilation, diversification and, more recently, commodification. Although there are many devoted students of yoga, who regard it as an exacting physical and spiritual discipline, there are also many trendy yoga consumers today, who regard it simply as another form of exercise like spinning or Pilates, as a hip new way to stay fit and lower stress, or even as a celebrity-inspired fad. Arguing that the varieties of yogic experience in America can “leave you metaphorically standing on your head,” a recent article in The Hindustan Times noted there are now such things as circus yoga, nude yoga, pre- and postnatal yoga, acro yoga (acrobatics), Christian yoga, hip-hop yoga, even yoga for dogs (“doga”).
According to Yoga Journal, nearly 16 million Americans were practicing yoga in 2008, and the yoga industry earns some $6 billion a year in the United States. The Canadian company Lululemon, which sells items like the $118 Lulu Zen Wrap and the wildly popular $98 groove pant, reportedly has a market cap of more than a billion dollars. Yoga for Foodies events, staged at spas and restaurants around the country, feature yoga sessions, followed by multicourse meals that include red wine and chocolate. And celebrity yogis, NPR reports, have become “brands unto themselves, complete with book deals, fashion lines, studio franchises and intellectual property lawsuits.”