2000-2009: the decade in yoga

Looking back at the first decade of the 2000s...

Despite the odds against it, we managed to survive the first decade of the new millennium ~ described by The Globe and Mail as “a decade that began in earnest with a huge terrorist attack, followed by two intense wars and more terrorism, ending with a complete financial collapse, undercut with fear of an overheating planet.” Egads – no wonder people were turning to yoga! Through the 10 years of stress and uncertainty, yoga did not only boom but thrive, as people turned to it in search of physical relief and spiritual comfort.

Yoga entered the new millennium on a wave of unprecedented popularity in the West. In 1990, yoga was this thing that old hippies and new age flakes did ~ by 1999, yoga was being practiced by uber-celebrities such as Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Marc Jacobs had designed a $400 yoga mat bag. Yoga had become ultra fashionable, as well as profitable. This ascent continued in the early 2000s, with yoga and all things related making big news, and big business.

Over the course of the decade, yoga found increased mainstream acceptance, greater commercialization and bigger profits ~ paralleled by an increase in yoga activism, wider diversity and investigations into yoga for healing and therapeutic uses. Yet, the jury’s still out on whether this mass popularity and commercial appeal is a good thing for yoga. In a 2006 feature article, The Atlantic Monthly described yoga as being “at a confused, precarious place, teetering on the edge of overexposure.” Has yoga reached its tipping point? Or is it still hovering at the edge? And how will the practice evolve in the next 10 years? Journey through the decade to see where yoga has come in the past 10 years…

Yoga Journal, a San Francisco-based yoga/new age magazine which had been publishing since 1975, relaunches with a slick new look and branding, including a fancy new wordmark (design-speak for the title on the cover, aka ‘logo’). Lululemon, a little yoga apparel company that started two years earlier, opens its first and flagship retail outlet in Vancouver (there are now over 100 Lululemon locations in Canada, the US, Australia and Hond Kong). Big name athletic companies clue in to the retail power of yoga: Seane Corn is named Nike‘s first global yoga ambassador, and Christy Turlington launches her Nuala yoga apparel line with Puma.

This is a breakout year for yoga: Time magazine features a cover story on the power of yoga (featuring Christy Turlington, of course) and Rodney Yee makes a guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. According to Time, an estimated 15 million Americans practice yoga (twice as many as 5 years earlier). Sri Pattabhi Jois gives one of his final North American workshops in New York City, during which the 9/11 terrorist attacks take place.

The ever-controversial Bikram Choudury copyrights his 26 asana sequence, sparking a debate about the trademarking and franchising of yoga which lasts for the rest of the decade. In what is perhaps the first “yogathon,” the annual Camp Moomba Yogathon and Blissfest launches in Vancouver, raising thousands of dollars for children impacted by HIV/AIDS (an estimated 2000 people participated in the 2009 event, raising $81,000). Mark Lilly founds Street Yoga, bringing yoga and mindful self-care to young people who are at-risk or homeless in in Portland, Oregon.

The first YogaWorks studio opens in Orange County, CA, putting forward a new business model (ie, chains and franchising) for yoga studios (there are currently 23 YogaWorks studios in LA/NYC/Bay Area). A Dahn Yoga practitioner dies during training in Sedona, Arizona, marking the beginning of high-profile and controversial investigation into the cult-like practices of the Korean yoga organization. In the ultimate symbol of yoga’s successful mainstream crossover, MTV releases its MTV: Power Yoga DVD.

In a SELF magazine article, Rodney Yee acknowledges that he’s had sexual relations with students. The Bikram backlash begins, as The New York Times reveals the dangers of hot yoga. In response to the high-protein/low-carb craze and an attempt to widen the appeal of yoga retreats, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health introduces chicken and fish to its menus.

5.5% of Canadian adults (1.4 million) practice yoga, with 18-34 year olds representing the fastest growing segment.* After Lululemon moves their clothing production from Vancouver to China, CEO/founder Chip Wilson gives “a speech on the merits of child labour and outsourcing to Asia” at a conference on sustainable local economies.

Walmart introduces organic yoga clothes (then hires Tara Stiles to advertise them in 2008), selling 190,000 units in the first 10 weeks. The first yoga and wine retreats are offered in California, another odd pairing in the ‘yoga and ___’ movement. Jivamukti Yoga opens a second “green” flagship studio – with a star-studded gala event – in New York City’s Union Square. Non-profit organization yogaHOPE is formed in Massachucetes, offering yoga classes to underserved women in substance abuse recovery, poor and homeless women, and victims of domestic violence.

Seane Corn and pals bridge yoga and activism by founding Off the Mat, Into the World, initiating global and local service projects. Lululemon goes public in July and then is in the news again in November, after falsely claiming their VitaSea line of clothing contains seaweed. Madonna kicks out a yoga class at a New York City gym “so she could practice her moves on her own.”

Yoga is number 15 on the satirical blog, Stuff White People Like. Malaysia’s leading Islamic body issues a fatwa against yoga, declaring that the practice can “destroy the faith of a Muslim.” A Yoga in America market survey (commissioned by Yoga Journal) indicates that between 2004 and 2008, the number of practitioners decreased (from 16.5 million to 15.8 million) while the money spent on yoga and related products ($5.7 billion dollars) increased by 87%.*

In the first fiscal quarter, a reported $81.7 million is spent at Lululemon stores worldwide (and gets the attention of Fast Company, with an article pointing to its cult-like elements). Sales of Manduka yoga mats increase by 55% and studios across the continued report increased traffic, as people cope with the aftereffects of the September 2008 economic crash. ascent magazine, a quarterly publication dedicated to “yoga for an inspired life” and engaged spirituality, closes due to financial difficulty.  The father of Ashtanga Yoga, Sri Pattabhi Jois, passes away at age 93. Fashion designer and long-time yoga practitioner Donna Karan contributes $850,000 to the Beth Israel Medical Center for yoga therapy and research. Satirist extraordinaire YogaDawg declares this “the year of the yoga blogger”and even Yoga Journal catches on to the online buzz.

* Stats taken from John Philp’s book, Yoga Inc. In general, all stats should be taken with a grain of salt, as I found many conflicting reports in various news sources.

  1. Nice overview of the decade in yoga!

    It’s inspiring to me to see so many ‘mainstream’ people pursuing yoga.

    Sometimes I wonder if the West has managed to create too many types of yoga, and it’s confusing for people, or if by having so many varieties, it means more will benefit from it.


  2. As a newbie to the workings of the broader yoga world (i.e. outside Mtl), I found this post to be an eye-opener. It’s really intriguing to see how:

    (a) the corporate world is trying to integrate yoga into big business


    (b) how the yoga world is trying to combine corporate aspirations with tradition.

    Keep the news coming, Roseanne!

  3. holy crap- Chip Wilson ACTUALLY stated that child labour is ok??? I went to your link- that is just ridiculousness.

    sigh- seriously.

    ps- fantastic overview!!! 🙂

  4. This stat needs more that a grain of salt, “55% of Canadian adults (1.4 million) ”
    It is clearly wrong. 55% is too high and 1.4 million is too low.

    If 55% of Canadian adults is 1.4 million people, that means that there or fewer than 3 million Canadian adults or say fewer that 6 million Canadians.

    Google and the World Bank say that the population of Canada is 33.3 million in 2008.

    Maybe it should be 5.5% of Canadian adults?

    • yep, that was my goof ~ forgot the point. it is indeed 5.5%. thanks for your eagle eye and meticulous research.

  5. This was a fantastic post Roseanne. I read this on my cell phone and it was very suspenseful since I could only see a few lines at a time. Even though I knew where it would end up, I was kind of breathless waiting to see where yoga was going. Great analysis.

  6. Amazing post. Really well thought, researched, & referenced.

    I can’t decide if this overly business/star/celebrity focus of yoga in the past decade is a true representation of what yoga is nowadays, or that the decade is just a blip in the grand scheme of the progression of yoga … so we can’t step back to see the big picture and note the developments that will matter 100 years from now. My guess (hope) is that things like Donna Karen’s work with Urben Zen and the proliferation of studios and students are harbingers of things to come. They are indicators of yoga becoming more integrated into western lifestyle as a preventative health system. These are developments that might be part of a larger narrative over the next 10 and 100 years. They might stick.

    • Thanks, YITS! I think this decade is just a blip in the grand scheme of the huge and marvellous thing that is yoga. Even though nobody’s quite sure how old yoga is (somewhere between 1300 and 50,000 years), you gotta admit: it’s old! It’s been around for a long time, and it was around way before the West discovered it (and before parts of the Western world were even “discovered” by Europeans).

      Let’s hope for more awesome therapeutic and health developments in yoga! Let’s hope that it’s not just a trend which will pass away like Jazzercise or Tae-bo! Let’s hope yoga is here to stay!

      For those of us who are committed practitioners, it is.

    • Hi YITS… I love your insight! I think the “overly business/star/celebrity focus” is not so much a commentary on yoga itself, but more on our culture as a whole in the last decade. . . Celebrity gossip, stars who don’t actually have any discernible talent/skills, and the celebration of greed and self-promotion can be seen in all aspects of popular culture — which ultimately had a big part in the downfall of the economy overall. I think as people are rethinking their core values in this new economic climate, the focus of yoga will shift to something more meaningful as well.

  7. Thank you for digging in and sharing this analysis with us!

    As for franchising Yoga studios and making it very profitable business, I think that in a free market we better have franchises that work for bettering people’s health, rather than yet another main stream corporation that crashes people’s health and well being for its executives’ sake.

    I used to go to the Santa Monica Bikram Yoga and saw with time how they evolved and as long as people put their money there and not in MacDonald and other corporate monsters, I have no issue that they get rich and prosperous.

    I can understand the feelings of lots of Yogis who are opposing the commercialism of Yoga. I had lots of thoughts about it too when I lived in La and saw how Yoga class becomes a gym session with a trainer, rather than a spiritual leader. But then again, if that’s what attracts people to do more Yoga, I am all for it.

    Nevertheless, I think that the majority of teachers are following the spiritual path more than the ones who are making it a sport. Many of them, including lots of my friends, sometimes do it as volunteers, which I believe is a great thing to practice when you have few hours to give back to your community. Yoga will be a great gift for ordinary people who do not have enough money to go to a class regularly. If done right, from experience, Yoga is healing!

    I am actually these days communicating with a Laughter Yoga teacher to give free lessons to one of the groups I am leading here in Oakland. It’s a group of what we call “main Stream” people who are not into any alternative stuff.

    Thank you again for sharing and its always fun and enriching to read your blogs!

    • Thanks for commenting, Aviad! You have some wonderful, positive examples of good change.

      I agree that it’s good to have franchises that work for people’s health ~ but, in the case of yoga, I think it’s important to monitor how it’s franchised, what is being sold. Franchises are known to use aggressive tactics, which compromise the ethics of yoga (for an example, I’ve heard stories about a yoga chain in Vancouver which bought up smaller, community studios ~ this is a tactic that’s similar to what Wal-mart and other box stores use). As well, there’s the possibility of homogenization and sanitization of yoga (ie, “watering down” the practice, stripping it of the elements which make it yoga).

      Anyway, it’s a big topic, and I’ll be sure to come back to it again. Hope to hear your thoughts!

  8. I love the wrap-up. What an incredible journey yoga has been through over the past ten years. I can’t wait to see where it goes next : )

  9. Great article, Roseanne. It was a really good review for me.

    That said, why do you choose to emphasize the commercial aspects and milestones of Yoga instead of the practice and spiritual ones? What about the rise of Kripalu, Rod Stryker, the Himalayan Institute, Anusara, exposing of gurus in “Stripping the Gurus”, the new trends in poses, in teaching–that’s just a few things that popped into my mind. There are many others, some of which were well covered by Ascent.

    It seems in your choice of topics here that you are preoccupied with the dollar signs of Yoga rather than Yoga itself. (Even your non-commercial topics, like Seane Corn’s initiatives, are not so much about Yoga itself but rather what Yoga celebrities are doing beyond Yoga.)

    This would be fine if your title was “The Decade in Commercial Yoga”, but this is hardly “The Decade in Yoga”.

    Bob Weisenberg

    • “Why do you choose to emphasize the commercial aspects and milestones of Yoga instead of the practice and spiritual ones?” Good question, Bob! As you’ve probably gathered from reading my blog, I’m interested in the commercialization and mainstreaming of yoga in Western culture. I can’t help it, it’s my “beat” (to use journalist-speak). I’m interested in how yoga is perceived by and represented in our culture.

      I agree that the practice and spiritual aspects of yoga are interesting, and worthy of an article in themselves. But they are harder to quantify and do a “decade in review” for. It’s difficult to measure the rise of different styles, or approaches to teaching. That said, it’s not impossible ~ maybe you should do it on your own blog!

  10. Bob, I would be more than happy to support you if you really wish to summarize in an article the last 10 years the yoga development, emphasizing the aspects you mentioned above.

    • Thanks, Aviad, but I’m sure I’m not qualified to do this. It would have to be a research project, and I don’t think that’s where my primary interests lie.

      Where are my primary interests? Helping people understand Yoga philosophy and the ancient texts. Plus I’m deeply interested in how Yoga influenced the early American authors like Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau. If I do research, it would be that!

      Thanks for your words of support, though.

      Bob Weisenberg

  11. Respect Bob!
    Love your blog and especially this amazing poem:

  12. 2001 (the year when I first started practicing) was a breakout year for yoga?! Are you telling me I was trendy????!!!!

    Ah well, at least I stopped practicing soon after, and didn’t start again until 2007, which was when I got serious about it, and when…yoga got activist, and Madonna kicked a yoga class out…that’s a bit more edgy…

    I think what I’m really gonna pride myself on, though, is that I got really, really serious, and started Yoga for Cynics in 2008…when numbers of practitioners dropped and a fatwa was declared against it–there’s really nothing cooler in my book than doing something that’s losing popularity and being denounced by religious leaders…

    Anyway, great overview–and I see nothing wrong with emphasizing the commercial aspects, since you’re showing the meeting/melding/clash of yoga and the larger culture (including performing a real service by pointing out some of the seedier aspects that people really ought to know about–if I ever intended to shop at Lululemon, which I haven’t, I wouldn’t now) which is certainly a something worth looking at. To me the truly “deeper” stuff would be the ways in which yoga’s affecting the lives of the many, many individual practititioners…and that’s not really something you’re gonna cram into one blog post…

    • yep, so true… the part of the practice that really matters – how yoga transforms lives & breaks down our limited concepts – is difficult to blog about or even put words to.

      sorry to break the news that you’re trendy, dr jay! i like how you’ve looked at where you were on this timeline (and of course you would get deep about your practice during an “edgy” year!)… what a fun exercise!

  13. great, well-thought out post… and an even greater follow-up. Look at all the discussion that gets kicked up! Year, decade, century wrap-ups seem to have that effect on folks 🙂

  14. I didn’t realize yoga went through such a transition.

    I did yoga years ago, kind of forgot about it, and then noticed in the past few years how everyone was saying how they stay in shape with yoga. Like others I went out, got myself a yoga mat and a DVD. Now I just have to use them. LOL. (The sad part is, I KNOW how beneficial yoga is.) Soon….

  15. That’s a great list. Yoga is really making some waves in popularity!

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