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.