Is Yoga Popular?

Picture of man doing tree pose with sun-set behind him
If you were to Google “Yoga popularity” you will find pages upon pages of articles talking about the popularity of yoga. So the question this article asks is: Is yoga really popular? The answer that this post comes up with may surprise you.

Before we jump into answering this question we should clarify by what we mean by yoga. In this article the practice of yoga asana or the yoga of postures is referred to as yoga. The practice of all 8 limbs of yoga as defined by Patanjali would reduce the numbers of yoga practitioner to be quite marginal.

Let us look at the raw numbers. As per Yoga Journal survey in 2008 there are about 16 Million people practicing yoga in the US. This translates to about 5% of the population. If we were to take this number world-wide we have to first eliminate half the population. It was estimated in 2005 that about half the world lived in poverty at less than $2.50 per day. For the people fighting a daily battle to bring bread on the table yoga is not on their list of priorities. We then have to accept that yoga has poor penetration in China, most of Africa, and Middle-East. Even in India, the asana yoga practice is not very popular and it would be safe to say that the popularity is no greater than that in the US.

If you were to do the math you will probably conclude that no more than 2% of the world does yoga. Even this is probably a wild over-estimate. So the question then arises: can we claim that something practiced by 2% of the population as popular?

The point of the article is not to stir up controversy or engage in a mindless statistical exercise. The point is to illustrate the work ahead. Because of the low penetration of yoga the benefits to society has been on the margins. Yoga can help bring down healthcare costs and also improve productivity of the working population. Yoga can also help improve education. It is not difficult to imagine that reduction of anxiety and stress can greatly improve learning. The resulting benefits from improvement in education to society would be quite phenomenal.

Yoga can also help pacify and calm down society. If yoga were to be practiced by 90% of the population you may see the need of less policemen and jails. And as yoga spreads to a majority of countries you may even see a reduction in wars and conflict.

Unfortunately the practice of yoga within the “at risk” community is pretty insignificant. Thus the people who can benefit most from yoga are not the ones practicing it. This is why the tangible benefit to society from yoga has been marginal at this point and that is why work done by people like Lisa Danylchuk is so important.

It has been close to 100 years since Krishnamacharya started his epic quest to popularize yoga and we have reached about 2% of the population in that time. Even if we were to see a geometric increase in the number of people practicing yoga, we are talking about many decades before yoga reaches say 25% of the population world-wide. It is probably only at such levels that we should first start seeing direct benefits accrue to society. When this happens that would be a “tipping point” for yoga. An earlier post talked about the foundation of sacrifice on which yoga has spread. What this post is trying to say is that Krishnamacharya’s work remains unfinished. Only when society sees direct benefit accrue to itself, only then yoga teachers will be justly compensated. Till then the wagon of yoga will have to be pulled by the force of sacrifice.

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5 Responses to Is Yoga Popular?

  1. Holden Francoise says:

    Despite the difficulty of the topic this is a good and sincere article. Traditions are not passed down the same way as information. The culture of yoga is the culture of those who practices yoga. In the west, as this is the limits of my observation, the dominant culture is capitalism. We have the information but we lack the human qualities of the guru. I take it that Krishnamacharya did not also intend for yoga to be popular but also to be accessible as well. The guru is valued for his spiritual qualities. In the west the yoga teacher is valued by his or her personality and physical qualities. The trend is that yoga is accessible primarily in richer parts of the nation. The capitalistic culture of yoga has disintegrated its traditional human qualities that allows room for compassion, humility, true pride, and courage– things that a student won’t learn in a yoga studio today. What attributes had been passed down by the guru, I can only guess. It is a personal matter between the guru and sisya. Like life, there is a deeper mystery to yoga. We have the books and the information but not the tradition for human development.

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