Home / Politics / Policy /  How the yoga economy is growing, in five charts

India is marking the eighth International Day of Yoga today. Since 2015, the central government has spent crores of rupees to make the event a success every year, not just in India but globally through its vast network of embassies. Yoga’s resurgence has been ably complemented by a myriad of social media influencers and wellness training centres. White-collar workers are getting lured to the practice to wean off the evils of corporate stress. In the process, India’s most famous ancestral gift has rebranded itself into a billion-dollar industry.

1. Public funds

For long, young Indians stayed largely irreverent to yoga even as its exoticity grabbed eyeballs in the West. The Narendra Modi government’s global push has worked wonders. Photo-ops with high-ranking officials masquerading as seasoned acrobatic yogis make for a more engaging show than the same officials pretending to pick up litter to clean up India. Selfie videos of digital-savvy ministers have added to the cool quotient.

Between 2015 and 2019, the ministry of Ayush spent 137 crore on Yoga Day events, with 50% going to advertising and publicity through the media, show data submitted to Parliament. Expense heads ranged from holding marquee events, giving away awards, procuring mats, and producing postal stationery. During 2015-17, at least an additional 15 crore was sanctioned to embassies by the external affairs ministry to hold overseas events.

When faced with the pandemic, autonomous bodies working under the Ayush ministry also instituted funded research into finding ways that yoga could prevent covid-19 infections.

Source: Parliamentary Q&A
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Source: Parliamentary Q&A

2. Traveller’s delight

Over the years, yoga has become an essential part of the wellness, hospitality, and tourism sectors, appealing to both local and international travellers. Wellness tourism, which includes yoga, rose twice as fast as tourism overall between 2015 and 2017, and before the pandemic struck, was estimated to pace up to $919 billion by 2022, according to Global Wellness Institute.

The worldwide trend for Google searches for “yoga retreats", which briefly declined in 2020 due to the pandemic, is again on the rise, with Irish, Australian and Swiss users dominating the search interest. From group yoga sessions to the ashram experience, travellers are looking for yoga in multiple ways, both as paid and complimentary services with their vacations, industry professionals said.

Balaji Nanabala, the chief executive officer of Shreyas Retreat in Bengaluru, said yoga tourism was already growing "at least 20-30% each year" before covid and has now recovered by about 50% mainly led by domestic travellers.

Source: Google Trends
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Source: Google Trends

3. The guru business

Stressed in work and personal life, many are thronging yoga centres that boast of a fast-growing community of yoga teachers. Earlier, older adults used to frequent yoga centres, but now it is the young who have growing health issues, said Rishikesh Kumar, CEO of Xtraliving Pvt Ltd, a fitness company. Saumya Mathur, a Delhi-based meditation teacher, said the young were turning towards holistic healing methods such as yoga to recover from physical and mental health issues that had “become prevalent due to a disordered lifestyle".

She attributed the influx of trainers to increased flexibility in how long one needs to train, and in which forms of yoga, to be able to become one—but the ease of getting certified can also create risks for students. Kumar hopes the market will take care of this issue as clients can judge quality. The Centre, too, has developed an app for yoga centres to register themselves, and there were 5,1,41 of them at last count.

Chart 3:

4. Perception vs reality

Despite the growth, some surveys still find the overall yoga uptake low. Around 62% of the 29,999 Indians surveyed by Pew Research Center in 2019-20 said they never practised yoga. In another survey by fitness technology firm GOQii, yoga emerged low in the preference list of fitness regimes, behind walking, work-out, running and cycling.

A government-funded study of 162,330 participants across India also found a huge knowledge–practice gap: while most believed yoga improved their lifestyle, just 11.8% practised it.

What keeps us from picking up the yoga mat? “Laziness, procrastination, and distraction" was the most common set of reasons (44%), followed by work (41%) and family reasons (25%), according to a 2021 global yoga survey by DoYou, a fitness app.

This could improve as yoga reaches more people. Mathur said the practice was no longer seen as something for “spiritual" or “hippie" individuals, and believers and non-believers alike were increasingly interested.

Source: GOQii
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Source: GOQii

5. Influencer bogie

Enigmatic Western celebrities vouching for yoga are passé as “yoga influencers" crop up online. Several yoga teachers have turned to social media, amassing millions of followers looking at their yoga exploits.

Source: Instagram, YouTube
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Source: Instagram, YouTube

Views on yoga-related videos have increased every year for the past five years, said YouTube in a report, but there was a notable bump of over 165% in 2020 as the pandemic forced a transition to home workouts and a need to regulate mental health. Average daily uploads climbed more than tenfold over the last five years, while such videos reached nearly 3 billion views in 2020, up nearly threefold from 2019.

“The need to stay healthy and the rise of online classes [during the pandemic] has led to many experimenting with yoga," said Krishna Kumar, chief customer officer at GOQii. “This encouraged many who excelled in the skill to become influencers or coaches. It has also turned out to be a good career option."



Manjul Paul

Manjul Paul is a data journalist. She joined Mint in October 2021. Previously, she worked witth the Reuters polling team in Bangalore as a correspondent for four years.
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