National “Yoga Machine” Sells “Spirituality of Style”


A recent New York Times article documents the decline in the number of people attending yoga classes along with a rise in the number of people who are rebelling against the high-priced “yoga machine” that has overtaken the country in recent years.

“Yoga is definitely big business these days,” writes the Times’ Mary Billard. “A 2008 poll, commissioned by Yoga Journal, concluded that the number of people doing yoga had declined from 16.5 million in 2004 to 15.8 million almost four years later. But the poll also estimated that the actual spending on yoga classes and products had almost doubled in that same period, from $2.95 billion to $5.7 billion. “

The yoga fad has become very expensive. For example, a pair of the popular Groove yoga pants cost $108 and a Manduka mat can reach as high as $100. A typical class in New York can cost up to $20 and some of the higher end chains in Manhattan charge up to $185 a month.

Billard also lists the many high-end “yoga rock stars” that have grown up during the yoga-boom, such as David Life and Sharon Gannon who taught Madonna and Sting, and Bikram Choudhury who is known for his “contortions (and Rolls Royces).”

“The irony is that yoga, and spiritual ideals for which it stands, have become the ultimate commodity,” Mark Singleton, the author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, wrote in an e-mail message this week. “Spirituality is a style, and the ‘rock star’ yoga teachers are the style gurus.”

But now that the U.S. economy is in recession, things have changed. “There’s a brewing resistance to the expense, the cult of personality, the membership fees,” Billard writes, and cites a growing number of yoga studios who operate by donations only.

One of these businesses, known as Yoga to the People, lists on its website: “There will be no correct clothes, There will be no proper payment, There will be no right answers … No ego no script no pedestals.”

Owner Greg Gumicio won’t even allow any “glorified teachers or start yogis” in his pay-as-you-go operation.

Hiigh volume is what keeps his studios operating with up to 900 people visiting one of his studios in a single day “with perhaps half of them paying at least something in the form of a donation,” Billard writes.

But the even this humble business model is unable to resist the ravenous appetite of the national yoga machine. Gumucio already has three studios in New York, one in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, and plans to open another this year in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He has also just signed a lease in Chelsea and is considering expanding to Austin, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“I truly believe if more people were doing yoga, the world would be a better place,” he said.

It certainly will be for him and all the others who continue to make a killing off this fad at the spiritual expense of so many Christians.

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