Washington :  Yoga has become increasingly associated with medicine and fitness and decreasingly associated with spirituality, according to a new US study which examined how the meaning of yoga transformed in the past three decades.

 Researchers said that the shift in the meanings is due to the changes in how yoga gurus are trained, market contests among different meanings and the distinct branding practices of small and big players in the market. Today, 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, up from 4.3 million in 2001.

The US yoga market density has been increasing with yoga enterprises rising from 14,058 to 26,506 and the number of employers increasing from 58,525 to 112,890 during the 2004—2013 period, researchers said.

The market drivers behind yoga are spirituality, medical, and fitness, they said.

During the first half of the 20th century, yoga was construed mainly as a spiritual practice linked to mysticism, magic, and asceticism with religiophilosophical underpinnings and an emphasis on Raja yoga (the mental science) rather than Hatha yoga (physical yoga), according to the study.

In the 1970s, a more scientific understanding of yoga emerged, and it became a viable player in the field of mind-body medicine, particularly as a treatment method for youth gripped by the drug culture.

The spirituality approach to yoga is structured around the goal of enlightenment, with gurus as leaders. Early gurus were mainly of Indian descent, and were later followed by their US disciples, researchers said.

The medical approach is organised around the health benefits of yoga while the fitness approach emphasises physical benefits as the goal of yoga.

For the study, researchers from Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics gathered data via archival sources, netnography, in-depth interviews and participant observations. For archival research, the researchers examined newspapers articles about yoga with the word ‘yoga’ in the headline or lead paragraph from ‘The New York Times’ and ‘The Washington Post’ published between 1980 and 2012. They also examined books published that contained the word ‘yoga’, including classical books on yoga and books on the history of yoga. They interviewed founders of yoga brands; as well as participated in various types of yoga classes between 2009 and 2012. “Over the three decade analysis of the yoga market we found that it was decreasingly associated with the logic of spirituality and increasing associated with the medical and fitness logics,” said Assistant Professor Gokcen Coskuner-Balli.

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