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Has the Yoga workout cult ended? How COVID-19 killed the fitness trend

The incessant global pandemic saw the demise of many businesses – the fitness & wellness industry is just one of the badly affected. Yoga workout studios particularly have had a tumultuous ride even before the coronavirus struck them. 

Yoga asana is a physical & spiritual practice of mind & body that originated from ancient India and became widely popular in the West in the past two decades. The rise in yoga’s popularity has not only been commended but also brought attention to race & cultural appropriation discussions among other issues.

“Westernization” of Yoga

Western yoga teachers, fitness studios, and class providers are criticized for largely catering to the upper middle-class in the U.S. The accessibility, or lack thereof, of such yoga services has its duality – as the ones who can afford the expensive workout are gleeful at the exclusivity while the ones who can’t afford them experience a bias.

With an hour-long yoga class costing somewhere between twenty-five & thirty dollars in popular American cities, yogic spirituality seems more far-off than ever. After the recent revival of Black Lives Matter movement and vehement protests surrounding race & civil rights, conversations of appropriation resurfaced in the yoga industry.

The first yoga workout center located in San Francisco, Bay Area opened in 1955: it’s disappointing to note that not much has changed regarding the whiteness of American yoga industry since then. Many Americans felt yoga workout classes at large were unwelcoming & expensive. 

Adding to the problem, 2020 has seen some strange overlapping of QAnon & LA-based yoga influencers. Reported by the New York Times, some yogis in the wellness community had joined hands with QAnon to support their pro-Trump agenda among other New Age conspiracy theories.  The news of this alarmed other unturned yogis who later denounced the issue in a collective Instagram post.


Cult-like behavior

It isn’t surprising to learn there have been several occasions where cults or cult-like organizations have run in the name of yoga – whether it’s the wellness center OneTaste and their “orgasmic meditation” scandal or the yoga-centric apparel brand, Lulumeon, and their cult-like toxic positivity. 

When the #MeToo movement blew up in Hollywood, numerous allegations of abusive yoga teachers & sexual harassment in the yoga community surfaced. Like workplace environments, communities like yoga centers & fitness studios also have a strong need for anti-harassment policies.

Zoom fatigue

Since state-ordered quarantines in the light of COVID-19 started being implemented in March, yoga studios & fitness centers – among other businesses – have faced an economic crisis. Not only did the coronavirus put a stop to any & all group activities but gatherings in closed, tight spaces are a surefire way to contract the disease. 

With 23% of wellness center closures in the fitness industry according to Yelp economic survey, yoga experts thus turned to teaching online classes like many. This major shift in dynamics has been both, a boon to some and a bane to other businesses.

As some of yogic community leaders shared, the virtuality of online classes can be less intimidating than the real thing and therefore, have acquired a new group of yoga practitioners. However, the essence of social & spiritual connectivity while tackling yoga asanas in a group seems to be amiss in the new normal.

Many have started opting out of online activities other than work or study-related due to excessive screen times. This recent phenomena has been coined as “Zoom fatigue”; the fatigue experienced after spending hours in Zoom calls & meetings.

People seek out physical workouts like yoga and other fitness sports to feel better mentally, physically and emotionally. With the ambience of these activities missing, many are finding it tough to continue their wellness journey. 

Currently, yoga in America is hit with a lot more than just an economic crisis – issues with race, cultural appropriation, harassment, right-wing conspiracy theorists, and a global pandemic are on its tail. The “pure” practice has been tainted by its history in the west but through the scrutiny, we hope to see agreeable changes in the future. 

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