India is the country where Yoga was born more than 5000 years ago. So, when and how did it become a billion dollar industry in the United States?
The first documented yoga practitioner to make it to the United States was Swami Vivekananda. Inspired by his guru Sri Ramakrishna, he traveled to the US in 1894. He published a book, `Raja Yoga,’ out of New York in 1896. We all have read in our childhood history books, his first speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Instead of Ladies and Gentlemen it was “Sisters and brothers of America,” he began, and the audience was on its feet, giving him a standing ovation. He presented Yoga as a spiritual path without asanas.
In the 1920s, another famous yoga teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda taught the Americans `Kriya Yoga’. He spoke, taught and published the classic book “Autobiography of the Yogi,” which remains popular to this day with more than four million copies sold since its 1947 publication.
Later, for some years there was an immigration ban on Indians to fly to America. So, many came down to India to learn Yoga. Theos Bernard came to India and later in 1947 and published Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal experience. Since the 1950s it has been a major sourcebook on Yoga.
Indra Devi Opened a Yoga Studio in California
That same year, Indra Devi opened a yoga studio in Hollywood. Her three popular books had housewives from New Jersey to Texas standing on their heads in their bedrooms. She was the first Westerner to study with Sri Krishnamacharya who went on to become the grandfather of American yoga. She attracted a few celebrity students in her Hollywood studio.
His students included B K S Iyengar and T K V Desikachar.In 1966 B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga was published in the United States. This book is still considered to be the Bible of serious asana practice.
In 1973, Iyengar was invited to Ann Arbor, Michigan to teach. Western teachers were influenced by his emphasis on knowledge of anatomy and physiology in understanding Yoga.
In 1965 U.S. law removed the 1924 quota on Indian immigration, and thus began the exchange of teachers and students. Many Americans would visit India to master and learn under Yoga gurus and go back to the US to open Yoga schools. Richard Hittleman, Walt and Magana Baptiste, Swami Satchidananda and Ram Dass are some of the names who popularized Yoga during the 1970s.
There have been many spin offs like Vinayasa Yoga, Power Yoga, Kundalini, Hot Yoga and Bikram Yoga.
A study conducted in America concludes that Yoga’s 2015 revenue in the U.S. alone was $9.09 billion. A 2013 Huffington Post Story called it a $27 billion industry. Unfortunately, in India we had almost forgotten that Yoga belongs to us.
But a last few years has seen a revival of sorts. And on 11 December 2014, the United Nations proclaimed 21 June as the International Day of Yoga. This was done on the behest of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi when he pitched an idea of a international Yoga day in his speech at the United Nations Assembly on 27 September 2014.