Beware of Yoga Capitalism

An article released on CNN blog rated Yoga studios as one of the fastest growing businesses. Lululemon, an athletic retail store that focuses on yoga clothes and supplies, reached $1 billion in revenues for 2011. Core Power Yoga studio revenues have gone from $6.5 million in 2007 to $30 million in 2010, with $30 million expected for 2011. The industry as a whole will see an annual 5% growth hitting $8.3 billion by 2016. Does this multi-billion dollar industry miss out on the very core concepts of Yoga? To some, it does.

The Hindu American Foundation has a campaign that seeks to bring attention to the disconnect between modern Yoga and ancient Yoga philosophy rooted in Hinduism. The Take Yoga Back campaign is trying to show people that Yoga is more than just a couple of poses on a mat, a couple of times a week, it’s a philosophy, a way of life that doesn’t necessarily match with western capitalism.

The Hindu American Foundation isn’t the only group frustrated with the ever-growing Western capitalistic view of Yoga as an industry. Edward Stern, a yoga teacher, argues, “the values traditionally associated with yoga, such as simplicity, humility, and one-pointed focus could somehow coexist un-problematically in the midst of a product-oriented industry.” Stern goes on to state that when the focus becomes money, the first thing to be sacrificed is quality. “Fast food, anyone?”

Others argue that American’s are just involved with Yoga for the fitness aspect and completely missing the philosophy and knowledge behind Yoga. As a devout student of Yoga, I have been to too many classes to count, , but I can only think of one in which the  teacher took the time to teach me Yoga beyond the physical. One teacher. One teacher took the time to read, educate and encourage her students to understand that the physical aspect of Yoga was just one piece of Yoga. Tom Pilarzyk in his book, “Yoga beyond Fitness,” stated, “Yoga’s public persona, as in more extreme forms of fitness yoga, feels disassociated at times from its philosophical origins.”

What does Yoga mean? According to The Sivananda Yoga Om Page:

Yoga means Union: “Although many people think this term refers to union between body and mind or body, mind and spirit, the traditional acceptance is union between the Jivatman and Paramatman that is between one’s individual consciousness and the Universal Consciousness. Therefore Yoga refers to a certain state of consciousness as well as to methods that help one reach that goal or state of union with the divine.”

How can we as a Western society have a union between the individual consciousness and the Universal Consciousness? Especially if to practice Yoga you need at least $15 for each class, pants that cost between $30 and $100, shirts that cost around the same as pants, a yoga mat that can run between $25 to $100, and don’t forget the coconut water and the fact that the teacher will tell you that one class is not enough to see benefits. If you want more than just a class of the physical aspects of yoga, be prepared to shell out between $60 and $100 an hour for private lessons. This type of yoga only benefits those that can afford, not necessarily encompassing all as a society.

Some studios are trying to combine the traditional yoga philosophy with Western capitalism by offering donation based classes or community classes. The studios that are donation based only truly are embracing this concept by allowing all to practice regardless of income. Those that offer community classes are at least trying, but are still holding onto Yoga as a means of capitalism.

If you are lucky enough to find that one teacher who recognizes that Yoga is more than just the physical, hang on to that teacher, cherish that teacher’s knowledge and spread the word to others about that teacher.

While America is known as the land of opportunity, it is also known for mass production, greed and allowing the idea of money to win over quality of services. Until recently, I didn’t see the relevance of this comment made to me by a Yoga studio owner, “I only own cars with leather seats because I am in the sweat business.” I didn’t think of the studio as a business but it appears, like everything else, that Yoga, too, has fallen victim to capitalism.


  1. Thanks for this article. I had similar issues with a yoga studio I attended and have found it is much easier to get the union aspect at home alone than in a class that feels more like a bootcamp than a place promoting the core aspects of yoga.

  2. I agree with the article for the most part, but teachers and studio owners pay – a lot – to get a yoga education in philosophy, anatomy, asana. It is very hard to make ends meet as a yoga teacher or studio, to rent a space for people to come together and practice yoga – with well trained teachers. The concept of donation based anything is a great idea, but unfortuantely our society is not based on a system that supports that. You have the tax man on you faster than you can say down dog if you can not account for every penny that walks into your yoga studio. It is sad that yoga has fallen to capitalism – but for most of us teachers out there, getting paid to teach a yoga class is the exchange we make with our students in order to keep teaching, learning, and surviving.

  3. Excellent! I recently went back home to NYC and saw my some of fav teachers sell out, not all, some. But hey someone gotta make a living.. I think if you give from your heart, yoga will support you.