Yoga Mimamsa

: 2022  |  Volume : 54  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 36--40

Evolution of yoga: From spiritual uplift to business outburst

HR Dayananda Swamy1, Govindasamy Agoramoorthy2,  
1 Division of Yoga and Humanities, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Distinguished Research Professor, College of Pharmacy and Health Care, Tajen University, Yanpu, Pingtung, Taiwan

Correspondence Address:
Govindasamy Agoramoorthy
College of Pharmacy and Health Care, Tajen University, Yanpu, Pingtung 907


Yoga has become a multi-billion dollar business in the globalized society. From celebrities to commoners, the art of bending bodies and boggling minds through various procedures of Yoga practice has become an essential activity to enhance health. This article analyzes how the intuitive virtuosity of yoga intended for spiritual advancement has evolved to become an exploding business enterprise in contemporary society. People worldwide adore the practice of yoga since it promotes both physical and mental fitness while making people cheerful. This article outlines the often ignored aspect of ethics mandated in classical yoga scriptures to pursue the spiritual journey to attain the ultimate freedom through enlightenment.

How to cite this article:
Dayananda Swamy H R, Agoramoorthy G. Evolution of yoga: From spiritual uplift to business outburst.Yoga Mimamsa 2022;54:36-40

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Dayananda Swamy H R, Agoramoorthy G. Evolution of yoga: From spiritual uplift to business outburst. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 6 ];54:36-40
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India has a long history of cultural and spiritual accomplishments.[1] The term “Yoga” had appeared over five millennia ago in one of the earliest Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda.[2] Furthermore, the popular epic Bhagavad Gita narrates specifics on the practice of Yoga. The ancient Indian sages have taught Yoga to their spiritually-enriched students and guided them toward liberation from all worldly attachments. Hence, the classical Yoga was not designed at first for those to pursue the pleasures, and instead, the mysterious wisdom to discover the self was transferred from a few enlightened teachers to some selected spiritual students.

The exercise part of Yoga involving the posture (asana) and breathing (pranayama) has been widely reported to provide diverse health benefits.[3] However, they only play a supportive role in the ultimate spiritual goal of Yoga. The text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika has compiled procedures on how to attain the highest state of liberation through the practice of physical and mental disciplining.[4] However, its adoption by devious students absorbed in culturing the body alone has led to the degeneration of the classical teachings of Yoga. By observing the increasing number of such incompetent students, some masters of classical Yoga practice have vehemently critiqued the drastic trend as a weedy habit compromising the critical spiritual objective.[5]

The ancient tradition of Yoga, on the other hand, has been transformed into a multibillion dollar business industry today. Whether it's a secluded Yoga retreat in Rishikesh or a popular bodybuilding gym in Los Angeles, enthusiasts are devoting money and time for Yoga to boost health benefits.[6] Depression and anxiety have become the top disease burdens of the world and clients rush toward the nearest wellness centers to find ways to relieve the excess stress through Yoga practice.[7] A report states that many Yoga classes in the United States have become over-crowded where practitioners end up fighting at times for the mat space.[8]

Despite the fact that most Yoga trainers and their followers are preoccupied in practicing diverse physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation methods, they ended up ignoring the ultimate purpose of Yoga, which is in reality embedded in ethics. Therefore, this review emphasizes the importance of ethics delegated in the classical Yoga scriptures to pursue the proper pathway of spirituality to achieve the ultimate freedom from the relapse of birth and death.

 Literature Survey Methodology

We primarily used the Web of Science and Scopus databases to search, synthesize and catalog information for this scoping review. In addition, we used the secondary sources of information by referring to classical books and online materials manually for their relevance. As the theme of the research review includes diverse perspectives, we used various keywords and their combinations to optimize the search that included, in the order of their relevance: Yoga, ethics, business, marketing, spiritual, wellness, corporate, training, fitness, physical, Hindu, culture, mental, health, and disease. The search results were manually scrutinized and interpreted for shaping up the review succinctly.

 Ethical Foundation of Yoga

Perhaps the origin of Yoga can be traced to the East, exclusively in India. The Hindu scripture, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali compiled over two millennia ago provides the best precepts on the philosophy and practice.[9] It states that those who want to pursue the spiritual uplift must adopt the eight-fold paces to reveal the supreme pathway to ecstasy that begins and ends with ethics. The eight-fold Yogic path includes Yama (ethical/moral discipline), Niyama (observances), Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (breathing techniques), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (bliss). The moral discipline part basically incorporates nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), moderation of senses (brahmacharya), nonstealing (asteya), and nongreediness (aparigraha). By strictly ensuing the above ethical codes, those who practice Yoga can free themselves from anger, hate, deceit, lust, greed, and attachment to sensual pleasures. Furthermore, they must observe purity (shaucha), contentment (santosha), self-discipline (tapas), self-study of scriptures (svadhyaya), and surrender to consciousness (Ishvara-pranidhana).[10]

Yoga cannot be performed without perfecting the practice of the required ethical discipline. All unethical behaviors will lead one to turmoil, which is antithetical to Yoga.[11] Hence, upholding ethics is absolutely essential to attain the highest level of consciousness. Only then, the deeper goal of comprehending the unreal from the real can be realized through the transformation of consciousness, guiding toward the ultimate enlightenment. However, the question is how much research awareness subsists on the significance of ethical priorities while applying the practice of Yoga for wide-ranging rationales?

In fact, research targeting Yoga started to emerge during the mid-1950s. A quick search of the keyword “Yoga” in the Web of Science database ( from 1956 to 2022 has yielded 6062 hits with the top five subject categories contributing to integrative complementary medicine (961 papers), followed by psychiatry (732 papers), medicine general internal (424 papers), public environmental occupational health (382 papers), and sport sciences (385), respectively. The total number of research papers has increased to over 300 yearly from 2013, reaching the highest of 693 in 2021, which shows the flourishing logical curiosity. Nonetheless, less focus has been given on the themes of Yoga business and ethics. For example, a search of the keywords “Yoga business” resulted in only 20 papers published from 2001 to 2022. When we added “ethics,” it yielded only four papers, exposing the lack of awareness on the crucial facet involving the Yoga business.

Millions of people from the East and the West have adopted Yoga inspired by or directly linked with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[12] In the modern world, there is no social support to persevere the often difficult to adhere ethical disciplines in life. However, for those who wish to pursue the classical Yoga designed by the sages, starting with ethics will be a step forward to jumpstart the journey. The central pursuit of Yoga training is to condition the unrestrained and unstable mind to transcend itself naturally, which cannot be achieved by simply evading ethics or manipulating morality for convenience. Only by upholding ethical restraints, both mentally and physically at all times, can one develop the ability to invoke Yoga rather internally.[13] However, change does occur over time in any case, be it the culture, tradition or classical Yoga, they barely resist the radical refinement hard-pressed by the force of time.

 Spread of Yoga From the East to the West

In 1893, the renowned spiritual leader Vivekananda introduced Hinduism in the United States when he delivered an astonishing speech at the First World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago to catalyze communal tolerance.[14] He was considered to be a pioneer in transferring the ancient Vedanta philosophy, including Yoga. He established the Vedanta Society in New York in 1895 that continues to operate till date. He also modernized the Yoga practice and referred to it as Raja Yoga to fulfill the needs of the English-speaking followers. He disseminated the practice of Raja Yoga, which was considered to be the radical reverse of body-centric Hatha Yoga. He bluntly indicated that the body-centric tactic to boost physical benefit is undeniably inferior to the inclusive spiritual growth through Yoga.[5]

While relating Hatha Yoga, he candidly wrote, “Health is the chief idea, the one goal of the Hatha-Yogi. He is determined not to fall sick and he never does. He lives long; a 100 year is nothing to him; he is quite young and when he is 150, without one hair turned grey. But that is all. A banyan tree lives sometimes 5000 years, and it is a banyan tree and nothing more. Hence, if a man lives long and he becomes only a healthy animal.”[5] The above statement depicts his unequivocal distinction separating the proximate physical fitness over the ultimate spiritual mastery to pursue supreme happiness through Yoga.

The Yoga scripture highlights that to attain freedom from suffering is through meditation where one can realize the Self or consciousness, which is different from the mind-body intricate.[9] But not everyone is determined to take up the challenging task of enlightenment as it involves relinquishing materialistic possessions, lifestyles and cravings. As a result, the body-centric Yoga postures and breathing techniques attained broader acceptance among the Yoga fans in contemporary society since it is easy to adopt; the practice also promotes physical and mental health benefits.[15]

After Vivekananda, Yogananda visited Boston in 1920 to deliver a speech at a religious conference organized by the liberals, and his book became a popular hit among Yoga enthusiasts.[16] When the American government imposed immigration restrictions for Indians in 1924, some started travelling towards India in search of spiritual wisdom. When the explorer and author Bernard returned from India, his Yoga book became popular.[17] Then, Peterson (a.k.a. Indra Devi) started her first Yoga studio in Hollywood that attracted popular movie stars.[18] She was one among the first women from the West who learnt Yoga from India. When the United States abolished the immigration restrictions in 1965, the Yoga market floodgates were opened to trainers and teachers from India as they started flocking to the world's richest country to increase fortune while propagating Yoga. Subsequently, Yoga branding started to transform the ancient art into a modern business. The Yoga conglomerate of Mahesh Yogi alone reported to have over 40,000 trainers with over 4 million followers in over 100 countries.[19]

 Marketing Yoga Through Branding

Branding is a key strategy that involves both creating and enforcing unique features of the trade to lure consumers and to reinvent commerce. While culturing loyal customers, branding also creates dedicated employees. As a matter of fact, marketing stimulates while branding buttresses the business growth; they neatly complement each other.[20] So, the promoters of Yoga adopt dazzling brands that vary sensationally to suit their target consumers and the stunning brand names include Anusara Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Divya Yoga, Isha Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Yin Yoga, etc.[21],[22]

Concerned about the over-exploitation of Yoga by aggressive marketers, the government of India has created a database to restrict the commercial abuse of the traditional knowledge. The government has compiled over 1,300 Yoga postures adopted from scriptures as an authentic reference source for patent offices' globally to discourage marketing firms from illegally profiting from the ancient Indian wisdom.[23] Yoga, by the way, is one among the six major systems of the ancient Hindu philosophy, which has been recognized by various cultures and religions worldwide. Nevertheless, religious controversies do exist and for example, some groups have expressed concern that Yoga threatens the identity of Christianity in the West.[21] Also, critics are troubled over the mixing up of the classical Christian doctrine with the Hinduism-rooted Yoga.[24]

Comprehending the looming religious contention, some Yoga promoters evade revealing the origin of Yoga from Hinduism.[25] Instead, they successfully market their Yoga brands in the West as a “spiritual commodity” rather than a “spectacle of Hinduism.” The opponents of postural Yoga warn that the practice corrupts the core principles of classical Yoga for popularity and profit. For example, the Hindu American Foundation depicts the body-centric Yoga as a dishonest business deal promoted by profiteers who do not admit Yoga with a Hindu identity as they fear the impending religious backlash.[26] The supporters however argue that the redefined and rejuvenated form of Yoga equitably suits the demand of today's customers as they strive for a stress-free lifestyle. Hence, they debate that the Yoga practice ought to be judged independently as a resourceful revision aroused by time and demand; it should not be matched to an obsolete ethical system that could not be pursued nowadays.[22],[27]

 Yoga Business Outburst in Contemporary Society

When Yoga took root in the West, postural Yoga started to spread like wildfire as people were progressively body-conscious to sustain health, and the trend of course continues. A survey conducted in the United States showed that three out of four Americans consider Yoga useful for them.[28] Many articles were published in medical journals demonstrating the health paybacks of Yoga since the practice maximized cardiovascular fitness and flexibility while minimizing anxiety and stress.[29],[30] Even those who did the eccentric forms of Yoga have admitted experiencing better health benefits. For example, the hot Yoga performance in a heated room of about 40°C with 40% humidity induced swift sweating while the heat-induced practice seemingly removed all unwanted toxins from the bodies of practitioners.[31]

Believe it or not, Yoga started as an exclusive spiritual and cultural teaching long ago with a sacred bond between a teacher (guru) and a student (shishya) through an oral system of imparting knowledge through the “teacher-student tradition.” Now, Yoga has evolved to become an accepted therapy by the United Nations to enrich physical and mental health. For example, thousands of people had gathered in New York's Times Square on June 20, 2012 to practice Yoga while celebrating the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere that showed its popularity.[32] Numerous Yoga studios have been established and they attract over 20 million active supporters of which over 80% are women with a profitable business estimated at USD 27 billion in 2015.[33] Many readers of the Yoga journal that started in 1974 by the California Yoga Teachers Association have an average annual income of over USD 100,000. Moreover, Yoga commerce extends to designer clothes, specialized mats, pretty towels, luxury retreats and costly cleansing juices.[34] The Yoga-wearable market alone in the United States is estimated at USD one billion yearly.[35] So, there is no wonder why Yoga has evolved to promote inclusive happiness among the high-end customers. To meet the increasing demand, institutions have mushroomed to produce teachers to demonstrate physical postures without the need for them to learn the philosophical background and ethics linked to Yoga.

Balancing the ancient and contemporary Yoga practice has become a challenge for professional associations worldwide. Besides, schools in the United States have shown interest in Yoga interventions since scientists have proved that the practice improved self-regulation, social behavior and performance of students.[36] Even in India where the art of Yoga originated originally, it has become a big business since people use it as a therapy to cure various lifestyle complications. The wellness market in India is estimated at USD 7 billion, and Yoga classes saw more enrollments even during the coronavirus pandemic.[37] The top Yoga and Ayurveda conglomerate, Patanjali Group alone has reported revenue of over USD 4 billion in 2020-2021.[38]

 Why do Corporate Businesses Adopt Yoga?

Unlike the government system where employees' work can be taken for granted, meeting the target expectations of corporations is always challenging.[39] The profit-oriented corporate industry prefers to keep their employees healthy. Hence, they are involved in corporate wellness programs to improve health and productivity. Many programs were designed to use Yoga protocols to reduce stress among employees.[40] Some even market the simple Yoga technique with a glamorous catch phrase like inner engineering to attract wealthy customers.[26] When an executive indulges in long hours of multi-tasking while sitting in an awkward posture influenced by erratic eating of unhealthy snacks, it will lead to a depressed state of the body and mind. A report shows that the corporate wellness sector is estimated at USD 4.5 trillion, with fitness and mind-body pursuits accounting for USD 595 billion.[41] Many corporations have accepted the value of Yoga to propel productivity and augment wellness since the job stress alone costs them USD 300 billion yearly through loss of work, absence of workers, low productivity, high staff turnover, and excessive healthcare costs.[42]

The corporate industry's Yoga benefits include minimal stress-related healthcare costs, lower absenteeism, less disability claims, high productivity, peaceful work setting, improved morale, enhanced customer service, low employee turnover, and above all more joyful workforce. Hence, by spending 1 USD for each employee in the wellness program, a company could save from USD 2–6. For example, the wellness programs of Johnson & Johnson have saved the company USD 250 million on health spending between 2002 and 2008 with a return of USD 2.71 for every dollar spent.[43] So, no wonder why the Fortune 500 companies enforce Yoga-based wellness schemes for staff since the benefits include enhanced concentration, improved cardiovascular health, superior decision-making, better awareness, decreased insomnia, increased happiness in workplace, reduced costs allied to stress, sickness and absenteeism, enriched productivity, and elevated sense of self-esteem reducing stress.[44],[45]


The prolific growth of Yoga internationally has emerged due to the massive interest of health-conscious consumers propelled by creative marketing slogans. Hence, the money-making Yoga market will go on uninterrupted in future. However, what's crucial now is to create increased attentiveness among those who teach and embrace Yoga so that they can incorporate ethical and spiritual components ingrained in the classical Yoga practice. Only then, the business outburst won't miss out the decisive purpose of the classical Yoga corridor, which is to move beyond the body and mind to perceive the ultimate freedom from worldly attachments.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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