On Sunday morning, when India once again gave Yoga to the world in a record-breaking performance at Delhi’s Rajpath, it showed the global reach of this ancient Indian discipline. And the morning after, random online polls showed more than 80% of respondents agreeing that India had proved its soft power with the success of the International Day of Yoga (IDY). So, is the Yoga business the next big bet? Going by the reactions of those who are in the business of Yoga, it seems so.
Take India’s IT capital Bengaluru. There's barely a gym in the city that doesn't offer Yoga classes. "Five years ago, most young and hip fitness enthusiasts considered Yoga one of those boring things older people do. Today, we can't run a gym without a Yoga instructor," says T B Ponnappa, a fitness manager at a multinational fitness chain.
Ponnappa says five years ago gyms paid about Rs 650 an hour to Yoga instructors. Now, that sum has gone up to Rs 1,500 per hour.
Leave alone gyms. Yoga coaching institutes, big and small, across the country have been witnessing a quantum jump in footfalls ever since the United Nations accepted last December Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga.
Ask Shammi Gupta, yoga coach and resident of Powai, Mumbai, who had close to 400 enthusiastic people wanting to learn Yoga last Sunday. “I generally have 25 people on any given day for my regular classes. However, over the past few weeks and especially since yesterday, I am getting phone calls from new students every five minutes,” she said.
Gupta conducts group classes in Powai at Rs 2,500 per month per student; private classes in Bandra for Rs 2,500 per class and for corporates in Prabhadevi, the cost depends on the number of people attending the workshop.
Bengaluru’s Vachanananda Swami, a popular Yoga guru and TV personality, says that when he started practicing yoga 25 years ago, instructors did not charge anything from students. “Today, an instructor with just two or three years of experience can easily make Rs 50,000 per month.” Swami, who led chief minister Siddaramaiah, actor Shilpa Shetty and thousands of others at the Yoga session on Sunday, adds with a tinge of sadness: "The following for Yoga has gone up but its core values have been lost. It has become an exercise."
Even smaller towns are seeing a big surge in enrolments for Yoga classes. Cities such as Jaipur, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Ranchi and Lucknow are unable to cope with the demand for trained Yoga instructors.
In Lucknow, for instance, several recent pass-outs from the yoga and naturopathy department of Lucknow University (LU) were deployed across the state to conduct classes in the run up to World Yoga Day. "The demand for trained instructors is so high that it is creating an imbalance," says Satyendra Mishra, Yoga professor at the Lucknow University.
On the flip side, the big Yoga push by the government has also increased the job prospects of those who have graduated in yoga as a subject. “My cell phone is continuously ringing as different organisations are calling me to conduct yoga classes," says Uday Pratap, who passed out in yoga from LU in 2008.
The roughly 20 Yoga centres in Jaipur have all reported an increase in the number of students, and consequently the demand for instructors. Similarly, the business spin-off of Yoga too is doing pretty well. The demand for Yoga mats, cushions for meditation and other accessories has gone up by about 30%, says Niket Bagrecha of Titus Sports in Jaipur.
According to online retailer Flipkart, the demand for Yoga mats on Flipkart has grown over 80% in the last one year. And customers are also looking for mats that are odour free, water resistant and have better grip.
However, established institutes like the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre (SYVC) in New Delhi’s Kailash Colony are bit cautious about the new-found enthusiasm for Yoga. “We have received more enquiries this year, but June is usually a lean month. People go out of Delhi for summer vacations. Give it a month and we will be able to clearly spot the trend,” says PC Kapoor, the institute’s director.
And then, there are the shadow regions like Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh. Here, the youth are showing more interest in gyms while some attend trendy air-conditioned Yoga centres, which experts say are of no benefit.
“Yesterday, I received 10 calls from people saying that they would come and join our yoga classes. Not one has turned up today at our centre. The IYD initiative was good but looks like the enthusiasm lasted only for a day,” says Avanigadda Rambabu, who runs Dr AP Ranga Yoga and Nature Care Centre in Vijayawada, established in 1928.
“People here are becoming rich and at same time lethargic. They would go for a bariatric surgery later to trim fat rather than spend an hour daily doing yoga for good health and fit life,” adds Rambabu, who has been teaching Yoga for 35 years.
Sixty-seven-year-old Kobad Variava, who has been practicing and teaching Yoga for the last 43 years at Mumbai’s Jogeshwari and Grant Road, said there seems to be a heightened awareness and increased demand but people have to continue the effort for themselves. “Considering Mumbaiites do not have much time, I believe yoga will return to only those who actually value it,” he says.
As 44-year-old Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh, a private yoga teacher, sums it up: “Suddenly gym instructors and fitness specialists have started cashing in on this current trend. It seems Yoga has increased quantitatively but not qualitatively.”
(With inputs from Chennai, Mumbai, Jaipur, Bhopal, Ranchi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh and Lucknow)