By Arun Kumar
Washington, Jan 23 (IANS): From US First Lady Michelle Obama to stressed out executives to students to housewives, some 20 million people in America are practising the ancient Indian art of yoga, fuelling a $27 billion industry.
Michelle Obama, who turned a "fit and fabulous" 50 last Friday, told the People magazine that she's tweaked her workout routine to do more yoga and less cardio with an eye toward her 70s and 80s. Daily yoga is also a key ingredient of "Let's Move!", a comprehensive initiative launched by the First Lady dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.
Even Washington's iconic National Cathedral, envisioned by the US Congress in 1893 as a national spiritual home, recently opened its 10-story Gothic worship area for tai chi, yoga and meditation as part of a week-long public programme - "Seeing Deeper" - according to a Washington Post report.
And Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is holding what is described as the world's first exhibition of yogic art to explore the mysteries of yoga and its profound meanings.
Through masterpieces of Indian sculpture and painting, "Yoga: The Art of Transformation" explores its rich diversity and historical transformations with more than 130 objects borrowed from 25 museums and private collections in India and the US, as also Europe.
The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) system, the largest such in New Mexico with about 90,000 students across 140 schools, plans to offer yoga to its students as a means of physical exercise right from the elementary school level.
The 2012 "Yoga in America" study released by San Francisco's Yoga Journal indicates that some 20 million people, or 8.7 percent of US adults, practice yoga, compared to 15.8 million from a 2008 study, an increase of 29 percent.
In addition, practitioners spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media. The estimate from the 2008 study was $5.7 billion.
Of current non-practitioners, 44.4 percent of Americans call themselves "aspirational yogis" - people who are interested in trying yoga.
"The number of practitioners and the amount they spend has increased dramatically in the last four years," Bill Harper, vice president and group publisher of Active Interest Media's Healthy Living Group, is quoted as saying.
"Companies that want to advertise to the health-and-fitness market for women will want to make sure that yoga is a strong segment in their target," he said as 82.2 percent of yoga practitioners are women.
The top five reasons for starting yoga were: flexibility (78.3 percent), general conditioning (62.2 percent), stress relief (59.6 percent), improve overall health (58.5 percent) and physical fitness (55.1 percent).
The growth in the yoga market is reflected in the growth of the Yoga Journal magazine itself. Founded in 1975, it now has 10 international editions.
Sat Jivan Singh Khalsa, a lawyer turned Kundalini yoga teacher who set up a yoga studio in Brooklyn's Boerum Hill in 1971, has seen yoga in America evolve from a niche activity of devout New Agers to part of the cultural mainstream.
Dozens of yoga variations can be found within a one-mile radius of his studio in Manhattan's Flatiron District, from Equinox power yoga to yogalates to "zen bootcamp," he told The Huffington Post.
As Khalsa said: "The love of yoga is out there and the time is right for yoga."