COAST CITIES — It’s believed that yoga has been around in some form for more than 5,000 years. In the late-19th century, yoga was introduced to the U.S.; in the 20th century, starting around the ‘60s and through to the ‘80s, yoga started to become a more prevalent form of exercise.
But not until 2001 did the growth of the yoga industry really begin to be measured. The research group MRI has been conducting surveys since then and the growth pattern through the fall of 2011 has shown only an upward trend, especially in the number of people doing yoga.
Bill Harper said that the number of people actually doing yoga has been the biggest change to the yoga industry in the past five years.
Harper is the publisher of Yoga Journal, the largest-circulation yoga magazine in the U.S. He will be speaking on the growth of the yoga industry later this month at t Yoga Journal Conference, which will be held in San Diego July 12 through July 16.
In 2007, the number of people participating in yoga was 10 million, Harper explained. The latest MRI data from the fall of 2011 shows 14.5 million people participating in yoga. “That’s a 45 percent increase,” Harper said. “That’s a pretty big deal.”
The increase, Harper thinks, comes from a kind of peer pressure or celebrity pressure, but also from the health benefits, the “calming benefits” that come from doing yoga. “As we head into more difficult financial times, I think people need a calming place to go to,” he said.
In 2008, Yoga Journal conducted the “Yoga in America” market survey. What they found was that people spent $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes, retreats, instruction, gear and apparel.
Yoga Journal is currently in the process of obtaining data for their 2012 study.
While Harper said it was too early to speak of any definitive results, they are looking at two things to get a feel for the yoga market. The first is the growth of the industry since their last study, and also continuing to study the spending habits of yoga practitioners.
Harper didn’t want to predict what amount that spending level would be this year, but only said that he expected that number to go up substantially.
With yoga being practiced in nearly every region in the U.S. (Harper said one of the strongest regions is the Pacific mountain region that includes Colorado and California, and spreading into Washington and Oregon), Harper described the growth of the industry as a consistent trend and not a boom. “I wouldn’t want to think that we’d be a booming bubble,” he said.
The yoga industry is very strong in San Diego, Harper said. It’s one of the reasons the conference is being held here. “There is a very strong yoga community in San Diego as well as in La Jolla and Encinitas, all the way up those smaller coastal towns,” Harper said.
According to MRI reports, women are still the leading practitioners of yoga with 79 percent; with men the remaining 21 percent.
It’s something that’s become a topic in the industry.
“Certainly throughout the yoga industry, I think everyone would like to see more men in those classes, and there’s no reason not to. I think we know the reasons, they’re intimidated; they’re not as flexible is probably the number one comment that I hear,” Harper said.
Lorraine Salgueiro, owner of Bliss Yoga in Encinitas, which practices Hatha Yoga, sees a similar breakdown in the numbers of women and men participating in her studio. “It’s probably three-quarters women; one-quarter men,” she said, adding that she is seeing an increase in men and people in general attending yoga classes.
“There’s a lot of yoga in Encinitas, and in this area there’s always been a lot of awareness of yoga, but…over the last 10 years especially, it’s really growing,” said Andrew Hillam, a teacher with Jois Yoga Studio, also in Encinitas. He’s been with the studio since it opened in August 2010.
Hillam said that he thinks yoga is at a high point now because of its extending further into the mainstream, including the areas of sports.
Salgueiro thinks the rise in people attending yoga is from the improving economy. “I’ve been open for four years and I started with a bang and went through the loop, and I think we’re out of the loop,” she said.
Harper said yoga did have a big growth period from 2001 to 2010. “But even since then it’s continued to slowly grow. It did take a little bit of a dip during the recession that we had,” he said. But it wasn’t like what other industries were faced with, he added.
Those who drive the trends in the yoga industry continue to be the companies involved in selling yoga equipment, Harper explained. “And then I’d say companies like Hard Tail and Lululemon driving the fashion consciousness of yoga,” he added.
“That’s why a company like Lululemon has had such a monstrous increase in sales,” Harper said. “They’ve done a great job of marketing, but they’ve also ridden the growth of yoga…and for lack of a better word, the ‘hipness’ of yoga because there’s lots of people who are buying Lululemon clothes that probably don’t do yoga but they kind of like the idea of it. Kind of like Nike when they first got into running business, it was cool to wear a pair of Nikes even though you never set foot on a track,” he added.
But yoga teachers, also, drive the industry forward with the various forms of yoga from Ashtanga to Vinyasa to Hatha, Harper said.
When it comes to chasing yoga trends not all studios are eager to change to make it more popular.
Salgueiro said in the four years that she’s been open she’s never raised her prices on classes. She does offer massage therapy at the studio, and that having a wellness center on site, was something that she had always intended on having.
Jois Yoga is a traditional Ashtanga Yoga school, Hillam said. “There’s a certain effect that yoga has if done correctly, so if we change it then it changes the effect.”