This week my reflections on religion and consumption have again led me back to the industry I’m most immersed in – yoga. Yoga in the west has grown from being something a little bit ‘out there’ that few people did in the early to mid decades of the 20th century, to being one of the fastest growing recreational activities today. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2006 the number of persons participating in yoga was 274,000 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013).
Yoga has become such an accepted member of the western wellness landscape that it is is classified by Vincett & Woodhead as a ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ form of modern ‘Spirituality’ (2010). A gradual appropriation and commodification of ancient yogic practice and ideology in the west is evident. One can attend the annual Body, Mind, Spirit exhibition in Australian and encounter a myriad of yoga classes, yoga mats, sandals, towels, socks, books, clothing and other more metaphysical paraphernalia.
From humble beginnings on cotton mats clad in dance leotards, the modern yoga practitioner (yogi) rolls out her absorbent mat, wearing gear no bigger than a bikini, coconut water never far from reach for that post practice hydration kick. The modern yogi doesn’t just practice, they can collect a whole cache of gear to define themselves as a yogi. Whether or not they participate in any spiritual aspect of yoga seems beside the point, prayer (mala) beads make a lovely addition to your latest season stretchy pants.
The issue of consumption within yoga can run deeper than retail products for professionals working in this fast growing industry. The essence of yoga teachings, found in Indian texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, promotes practices which lead to a world view that seems in opposition to the consumer driven culture of the contemporary west. Yoga teachers and studio owners often find themselves asking questions like ‘how can you run a yogic business?’ or ‘does the business and the yoga have to be separated to survive in this competitive climate?’.
Even in medieval times the earliest Indian yogic progenitors engaged in a wide variety of wealth accumulation activities to support their ascetic lifestyles (White 2012). Historically it seems that yoga has always featured an aspect of commodififation, that the goals of the teachings can not practically be separated from the economic reality’s of life. From this perspective then, running a yoga business is a matter of holding in balance the competing demands of what is essential an ascetic practice with the constraints of the western consumer marketplace. Finding the balance is up to each individual and certainly no two teachers or studios will meet this challenge in the same way.
Vincett, G. and Woodhead, L. Spirituality. In Religions In The Modern World. 2nd ed. eds. Woodhouse, L., Kawanami, H., and Partridge, C., 319-337. Oxon: Routledge.
White, D.G. 2012. Introduction in Yoga in Practice, ed. David Gordon White, 1- 22. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
4156.0.55.001 – Perspectives on Sport, May 2009, Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2013
Shit Yogis Say by lululemon athletica. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMC1_RH_b3k
Yoga Mat Bags Image from http://www.scissorsrockpaper.com. permission from Jess White