The business of competition, coupons and ‘free’ classes are taking the shine out of yoga, Lee Carsley says.


In the 1960s in India, yoga had become an art form only the middle-class and wealthy could afford. Everyone else was busy trying to feed their families. A Brahmin pastime, sort of like flying your Gulfstream today.

B.K.S. Iyengar commented ‘the west saved yoga’, when around the same time, young people flocked to India to learn and then bring it back home – specifically the US, yoga’s second home.

Today, $27 billion USD is spent annually on yoga products and services in the US – $1 billion in Australia. Lululemon, the Vancouver-based yoga-apparel brand, earned more than $1 billion worldwide last year. This spend is anticipated to continue at a rate exceeding most other physical activities – about 5 percent a year.

Up until 2011, you could become a yoga teacher, set up a studio, and not have learned any of the other seven limbs of yoga – the practice of the union between body, mind and spirit.

More yoga studios go belly up than any other form of small business in the US – and probably the same elsewhere.

Paying for a yoga teacher in Singapore can be as low as $35 per class – in the US, some teachers get as little as $5 a class. The market is now so cluttered with teachers, some are even working for free.

Yoga is sold through Groupon and LivingSocial for as little as $2.50 a class. Don’t want to pay that? Go to the growing number of festivals around all things green and spiritual or practice in your nearby park at a ‘free’ yoga event. These 51events often donate to charity, but it’s small compared to what companies make through sales of their ‘soulful’ goodies.

A practice originally intended as a vehicle for transcending the ego is increasingly a vanity-driven pursuit. Wellness junkies share Instagram shots of kale smoothies and selfies of figure-contorted inversions and balancing postures – 400,000 photos plus tagged #yogi on Instagram, enough for the New York Times to write a piece on it.

Yoga teachers guide mindfulness in their students – the yoga industry now needs its own dose of mindfulness.

Because at the heart of yoga, it was a practice invented to create enlightenment, never to make money. I sense it will only deliver money while this basic premise is followed.

The ANZA yogi community has been set up with this backdrop in mind. We don’t care about the shape of your body. If you want to be a better you, come along. We practice outdoors to stay connected to the earth. Our class prices are deliberately constructed so a large portion goes to good deed projects – like the Cambodia charity Riverkids – our teachers get something, and you get value for money.

If we were a big studio, the next 30-day ‘challenge’ would include a donation from the participant and us to a charity of choice. Our membership fees would include donations to mindful projects from which people could choose. We would have open days where people can come and do yoga for free. All meditation workshops would be free. Imagine what that would be like?