NEW DELHI: If the sheer numbers of those who gathered at the Sheraton Hotel in Los Angeles to celebrate Bikram Choudhury’s birthday last week are any indication, yoga is ready for its next big innings in the US. For yoga is no longer a muddled concept practised by a select few new-age Americans, but a mass brand that spawns millions of dollars in revenues each year in the US.
Yoga perhaps has been India’s first offering that touched the American way of life in a such a big way. Today, scores of practitioners in the US access yoga through several thousands centres. The Bikram Yoga, for instance, has some 250 franchisees with close to 50 more coming up in the next few weeks.
The unprecedented success of Bikram Yoga through a franchisee model has led some critics to call it ‘McYoga’. “Look at the west coast where fitness is a big business. Yoga has become an integral part of the package being offered by almost all fitness centres apart from standalone yoga centres,” says Subhinder Singh Prem, MD of Reebok India. Sports and fitness companies — Nike, Reebok and Adidas — today carry yoga collections in their portfolio across stores in the US. Yoga spas are springing up across the US.
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So much so that if yoga can find acceptance in the fitness space, many believe Ayurveda could do the same in the domain of alternative therapies and supplements. Various surveys show that Americans are turning increasingly to alternative therapies to meet their healthcare needs.
These include medical interventions not widely taught at US medical schools or generally available at hospitals there. The prominent mention could be eastern systems of medicines such as Ayurveda rooted in Vedic philosophy like Yoga itself, apart from homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, faith healing, and herbal remedies. Recent figures are difficult to come by, but as per 1996 estimates Americans spent close to $40 billion annually on alternative therapies and herbal products.
The Indian government has reportedly expressed a readiness and a keen desire to promote and teach Ayurveda to interested academics in the US. There’s a strong case for India to push further.Sanjay Gangopadhyay, marketing director, Nike India, says there is a new kind of evolution happening in the American society. “There’s an introspection in the society at large and Americans are now looking at holistic solutions to health and wellness as opposed to traditional calorie-burning ideas,” he says.
No wonder then there’s a greater awareness and appreciation for yoga and vegetarianism raging across the US. While Americans are getting hooked, experts believe, they will lap it up faster if the ancient tradition is positioned on the right platform, made simpler and less enigmatic. Even if the idea is not aimed at genuine spiritual uplift, yoga will always be represented in the West for the sheer feeling of it. “For the first time, the Americans have evinced interest in adopting practices without asking too many questions on its scientific validity,” according to a CEO of a healthcare company.