If you’ve yet to try your first downward dog or embrace Ujjayi breath, then it’s possible you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years. Yoga is everywhere, and if you haven’t experienced its calming and healing flow yet, it’s likely you’ve made the conscious decision to avoid it.
However, if you have embraced this wonderful practice, then you’re probably aware of the incredible rise in popularity it has witnessed recently. Most never question it, but considering how this niche spiritual activity has transformed into one of the most powerful fitness revolutions of the modern age, it’s truly a staggering thought.
Is it the advent of the internet and its ability to access knowledge across borders, or is there another reason the yoga craze has found its way into so many households across America?
India’s Spiritual Export
The original yogic ideas came from a very ancient Hindu spiritual practice that spoke of the four paths of yoga as the journey to enlightenment. For the yogis of old, the practice was not just a movement exercise; it was a holistic lifestyle based on meditative worship to God. In short, yoga was, initially, a form of prayer.
So how did this once intimate practice come to take over the western world? More and more, Americans are embracing the clean eating, daily meditation and yoga lifestyle first designed by India’s old Brahmans of ages long passed. How could this obscure and ancient practice come to fill every gym, sports hall and community center in the USA?
The American Yoga Revolution
Long known as the grandfather of American yoga, Yogananda was the first yoga master to come to the USA. In 1920, after a string of visions painting his path, he left his homeland of India and traveled to the west to share the teachings of Kriya yoga, a gentle, meditative practice accessible for all. Though his endeavors were not entirely successful, he started a chain reaction that created the groundwork for American yoga today.
Years later, in 1971, Sat Jivan Singh Khalsa opened one of only three yoga studios in New York City. Today, the USA boasts 20 million regular yoga practitioners and a $27 billion industry behind them. While many worry the commercialization of such a nonmaterialistic practice has damaged the authenticity of American yoga, it’s undeniable a revolution has well and truly occurred.
But is the internet the reason for this?
It’s clear our global online community has transformed our ability to access information. It’s allowed unique, inspiring individuals to share their voices and provided a whole range of role models that would be shunned by the offline media. This new culture is primarily responsible for many incredible yogis around the world to inspiring others with their practice.
Jessamyn Stanley is a perfect example. While most plus-size women would feel isolated in a yoga class and therefore avoid attending, she flooded the internet with her extraordinary skill and uplifting campaign of body positivity. Her viral posts taught America that yoga is for everybody and, literally, every body.
Yoga & the Media
In fact, the popularity of yoga is so vast that it’s even in mainstream advertising. In a relatively short space of time, the practice became the poster child for ultimate health of mind and body. It wasn’t long before celebrities were joining in, taking every opportunity to show their most impressive asanas. Once yoga found popularity in A-list Hollywood, it was clear it had become as American as apple pie.
However, many argued celebrity endorsement and features in advertising were destructive for American yoga. Instead of focusing on the mind-body connection, as was intended, it sexualized the practice. Skimpy outfits and slender, toned women covered billboards and TV screens around the country, and many were not impressed.
A particularly notable controversy surrounded an advertisement by the luxury fitness company Equinox. It showed a beautiful young woman doing yoga in lingerie. Star of the ad, Briohny Kate-Smyth, responded to the backlash by explaining how the video symbolized the culmination of her own journey to self-love through yoga, and we should not misinterpret it as anything other than body positivity!
Do It Yourself
Alongside the way the internet and media positively advertised yoga, there is another key factor that has undoubtedly increased its popularity. Online yoga instructors are in their thousands, at least, and many offer quick and easy courses that make it more convenient than ever to try.
In the past, committing to yoga meant attending your local 6:00 a.m. class or taking time off to spend at a retreat, now you can just click on to any social network and search engine. You can find your preferred instructor and design bespoke sessions that can fit around your schedule.
Many of the greatest no-cost yoga classes are available on YouTube. Some of the most successful include Yoga with Adriene and SarahBethYoga. Both channels provide a whole range of different styles, difficulties and routine lengths. They allow you to build up your ability and mix-and-match to work on varying poses to suit you. If it weren’t for the existence of resources like these, it’s highly unlikely the practice would have gained such widespread popularity.
Whether yoga would have found such high regard without the internet is impossible to know. However, it seems clear that it most definitely gave a hand to spreading the healing and loving message of the ancient Indian practice.
How did you hear about yoga? We’d love to hear your stories to know how the internet has changed your personal practice!