Yoga – essentially the union of the mind and the body is a very important part of Indian culture. This ancient science is believed to have been developed more than 5000 years ago during the Indus Valley Civilization. The famous Pashupati seal from 2500 BCE depicts the Mulabandhasana posture – a sitting asana from Hatha Yoga
(one of the six ancient types of yoga). It is believed that the concept of religion started evolving somewhere between 2300 BCE and 1500 BCE. If this is true, then the Pashupati seal is almost 200 years older than that. With the development of the concept of
Hinduism, this seal came to be interpreted as Lord Shiva (or Yogeshwara).
It appears from the illustrations below that perhaps the first asana belonged to
Hatha Yoga which continues even now. This indicates that the legacy of yoga has seamlessly transitioned for five millennia despite multiple onslaughts of aggressors
and their ensuing cultures.
It is believed that in ancient times, yoga was practiced for self-realization. It was a form of meditation – a practice to overcome all forms of suffering. Alistair Shearer’s (a writer and culture historian specializing in India) book titled ‘The Story of Yoga’ states that the ancient practice of yoga was essentially mind-yoga – an inward-looking practice. However, in recent times, it has been transformed into body-yoga – which can be thought of as a secular healing remedy.
Today, various forms of stress and sedentary lifestyle have led to the emergence of an array of lifestyle diseases. Many of these diseases neither have any prognosis nor any specific cure. Renewed interest in well-being has raised the importance of preventive healthcare. This has led to the practice of yoga receiving worldwide attention and appreciation. People have started looking towards the aforementioned body-yoga as a means of preventive healthcare. Today, the yoga industry is worth around $80 billion worldwide. While being a soothing exercise for the mind and body, yoga also contains an inherent trade aspect which can be explored by the Indian economy.
Molly Wood, the correspondent for the US Radio programme Marketplace states that yoga was perhaps introduced in the United States in 1893 by Swami Vivekananda. In the 1920s and 30s, the physical version of yoga – mainly concerning postures (or asanas) started gaining traction. Furthermore, in the 80s and 90s, video cassettes and DVDs helped to expand its reach. There exist millions of
yoga studios in the US itself. An analysis by StudioGrowth, a technology company helping entrepreneurs in setting up
wellness studios, pointed out that an average yoga studio owner earns a gross monthly income of USD 7,227 i.e. about USD 86,000 annually – indicating the popularity of yoga in the US market.
As the figures indicate, the expectation of yoga participants in the US for 2020 was rightly extrapolated in 2016. Actual
figures might have even crossed the said estimates. As can be observed by the above data, the yoga industry has quite a huge participation in the US
alone – indicating an upward trend leading to a rise in investment by individuals on yoga classes and accessories, in addition to
other approaches towards preventive healthcare.
The yoga industry has enormous trade potential which exists by way of both services and manufacturing. The services part is captured by the ‘software’ component of yoga – services provided by yoga professionals
and the manufacturing part
entails the ‘hardware’ component of yoga – yoga accessories. Recent trends indicate a growth in
cross-border movement of both these components.
Even beyond the mainland United States, world consumers spend billions on yoga classes
and accessories like mat, apparel, audiovisuals, publications, etc. For India, Inc., this presents a huge import-export
potential – import of foreign investments and export of tailor made goods and services.
Demand during the pandemic
Yoga is also being widely used as adjunct therapy to
alleviate suffering caused by multiple ailments – be it
spiritual or physical. According to an estimate, the value
of the global wellness market is witnessing an upsurge.
Especially in India, a recent report by the Federation of
Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) points that the value of the wellness market is over `490 billion, out of which almost
40% is attributed towards wellness services like yoga. Furthermore, in the wake of the pandemic, intermittent lockdowns and the ensuing compulsion to stay at home had started affecting the mental health of the population.
Anxiety and depression started to take a toll. Thus, people started turning towards yoga and the industry witnessed a surge in enrollments for classes. In addition, statistics and study portal Statista mentions that classes are the
main source of revenue for the industry. Thus, a rise in enrollments enhances the industry.
As the requirement for yoga accessories and the demand of services by yoga professionals is rising the world over, the yoga industry can act as a healer to the dire economic situation in Indian subcontinent. The economic benefits of this industry can be reaped fruitfully. Every year, thanks
to the Indian leadership, the International Yoga Day is now a major cultural event worldwide. A spinoff is a higher business sales of yoga peripherals. Concerned MSMEs do not have to incur promotion costs on their products due
to the already ongoing efforts by world agencies in spreading yoga consciousness. This leads to further expansion of the small enterprise sector – thereby triggering a huge
employment generating chain reaction.
A boost for the Indian economy
Investments in promoting yoga would lead to achievement of the twin objective of greater value addition to manufacturing under the Make in India initiative, in addition to promotion of Indian culture. In the 2021-22 Budget presented by the finance minister, the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) was allocated `29.70 billion (approx. $400 million) for the next fiscal – an increase of about 40% from the corresponding figure of the current fiscal, i.e. `21.22 billion (approx. $285.5 million). Due to increased connectivity with the world resulting from a better digital infrastructure, local manufacturers are able to tap into world markets. Thus, this increase in budget allocation would support growth of manufacturers in the yoga market as well and result in an export boost to the Indian economy – something desperately required during times of
In fact, data from Infodriveindia, an import-export data provider, suggests that China, at present, is the largest supplier of yoga accessories to the western markets. If India is able to harness its full potential, the recent US-China trade standoff offers yet another golden opportunity for India to claim the crown as the largest supplier for yoga accessories.
Yoga not only has potential by way of exports. In recent years, yoga tourism has also become popular. A special article published in Employment News Weekly, the flagship job journal of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, mentioned that worldwide the tourism industry is worth `3.2 trillion – `439 billion coming from wellness travel. Foreign nationals make dedicated trips to India to visit divine yogic locations and learn the ancient art from veteran masters. Haridwar and Rishikesh continue to be tourist attractions to practice yoga. In fact, Rishikesh is also called the yoga capital of the world. Even the British royal couple – Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall visited an ashram in Rishikesh in November 2013 – highlighting the enormous significance attached to yoga tourism. Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs have also done this. By the use of the catch phrase “India, Land of Yoga”, the Ministry of AYUSH and the Ministry of Tourism are taking steps towards promoting yoga tourism in the country. This would benefit sectors shattered due to Covid-19 like hospitality and ashram services while also generating foreign currency for the Indian economy.
The take-home message
Before concluding, let’s glance through the Pashupati-seal. One interpretation of that seal points towards the harmonic manifestation of yoga. That was an era when hunters and gatherers were evolving into agrarian societies and the concept of commerce/economics was taking shape. It appears that the carver attempted to propound “yoga for co-existence” between bio-diverse entities, as depicted in the seal. From a modern and contextual point of view, another contemporary interpretation can be derived. Commercial enterprises need not encroach upon the realm of conventional habitats and that the two can co-exist mutually-beneficially – the kind of harmony that yoga also stands for.
In terms of commerce, yoga indeed has potential for boosting exports (leading to GDP growth), enhancing the tourism industry and thus, generating foreign currency for the Indian economy. Being developed in South-Asian countries, yoga has given a kind of comparative advantage to India in terms of having a rich knowledge of the art – leading to perfection in the various services provided by the yoga industry. Increased recognition of the economic potential of yoga can further strengthen both – our culture and our economy.