How did yoga grow from being a hippie movement to one enjoyed by the masses?

How did yoga grow from being a hippie movement to one enjoyed by the masses?
Soulscape Festival, which combines elements of yoga, dance and music, has been growing from strength to strength since its first edition in 2014. Photo: Soulscape Festival
Social media, easier accessibility all play a part, say yoga insiders
Published: 10:10 PM, September 30, 2016
Updated: 10:31 PM, September 30, 2016

Go back a decade or so and you would find the yoga scene hardly like the everyday fitness routine it is today. The practice was seen simply as contorting your body into various poses, and involved a spiritual and mental element such as meditation.

Practical working professionals then viewed yoga — which has deep roots in the East and is speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions — as a new-age hippy movement.

As you know, it is a completely different situation now. It is not uncommon to see anyone, from housewives to millennials and even children, going for classes decked out in stylish yoga gear.

Practitioners and those in the yoga scene say the sport has caught on like wildfire here and globally as well because of its greater accessibility and a shift in its image. Social media and the increasing pressure to keep fit in today’s fast-paced society are also reasons why the industry has grown.

Take Soulscape Festival, which has been going from strength to strength since its first edition in 2014. Organised by Soulscape, a health and wellness community platform, the large-scale event that combines elements of yoga, dance and music has seen participation grow by 40 per cent last year, compared with their first run in 2014. This year’s sign-ups grew another 10 to 15 per cent compared with last year, said its co-founder, Marc Dass.

The third edition, which will be happening today at Tanjong Beach in Sentosa from 8am to 8pm, will see an extensive line-up of activities such as meditation, sunset yoga, embodied dance and an intriguingly named activity called the Rainbow Chakra Crystal Singing Bowls 
Sound Healing.

Wellness is becoming trendy, pointed out Dass, and people are beginning to realise the importance of health especially in a stressful city environment. “We started seeing this shift right about when we started in 2013, and it’s gaining more momentum,” he said.

Indeed, mass yoga sessions are now a dime a dozen, with many held in the city. For instance, the mass yoga session in Orchard held as part of Singapore Yoga Festival 2016 in April was over-subscribed. ActiveSG also organised a mass yoga workout in June to celebrate International Yoga Day.

Soon Li Ling, director and yoga teacher from Kate Porter Yoga, said its following “has steadily increased” since it was established more than seven years ago.

“From easing aches and pains to cultivating more peace of mind, yoga — unlike other activities like running or ball games — has the ability to include everyone, regardless of your fitness level, age or size,” said Soon.

The evolution of yoga’s place in modern society can be felt in other areas, too, such as the yoga apparel businesses.

Athletic apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica for example, has grown from being a niche brand to a having a global following. The opening of its first Asian store here in December 2014 at Ion Orchard created much buzz and anticipation, and it now has three outlets here.

“In Singapore, we are definitely seeing people embrace the need to create balance in their work lives,” said its brand and community manager Felicia Sun.

“We know our guests in Singapore lead busy, active lives, and most of our products are designed to transition easily between activities and function from morning to night.”

Pointing out that there has been a surge in new studios, and greater demand for “cross-functional partnerships with other forms of workouts”, Sun said: “As the market for yoga and fitness grows, the need for more technical athletic apparel to support people in these activities naturally increases.”

Sun said the “excitement” for such apparel “has had a positive impact on our store performance and our business”, although she did not elaborate on specific numbers.

Even homegrown brands are reaping benefits.

Alicia Loh, co-owner of homegrown online yoga and workout apparel store Omgoing, said she noticed a shift in people’s perception around five years ago, when big fitness clubs started to introduce yoga classes among their cardio classes. People began to recognise that it is a great form of exercise, too, she said, “and it has picked up exponentially in the last two years”.

“Classes have become very accessible to all in terms of pricing and even locations. On social media, people of all ages and sizes have started on their yoga journeys, and the best thing about yoga is that it can be practised just about anywhere,” she added.

She started the business two years ago with her sister because they realised that the workout apparel available at the time were mainly plain and dark coloured. The duo went to America to source for brands, and now carry 13 brands in store.

“Ladies want to look good and differentiate themselves at the studios or outdoors in comfortable, pretty, unique apparel,” said Loh. “Even our mats and hot yoga towels sell fast because everyone wants to take pretty photos for their Instagram and Facebook. No boring black mats for them!”

Sylvia Lim, designer and co-owner of Vivre Activewear, agreed that she has seen interest in yoga apparel spike in the past couple of years.

“Our revenue has tripled since we shifted from (being) just an online store (which was started in 2014) to brick and mortar stores.” She now has three outlets in Far East Plaza, Wisma Atria and Bugis Junction.

While in the past, customers used to buy their gear mainly for yoga classes, these days they are looking for something stylish and unique, and even wear them outdoors for leisure activities, she said. “They love intricate details and prints. At the same time, it has to be functional, and comfort shouldn’t be compromised,” she added.

She also agreed that social media has played a big part in bringing yoga to the forefront. “With the younger generation posting more content about their poses and gear, the sport is now seen as a challenging, fun and cool activity,” she added.

“To me, yoga is a sustainable activity that promotes overall well-being and it’s non-competitive. More often than not, there is a misconception that yoga requires you to be flexible, or to be able to achieve poses. In reality, yoga brings more than just physical benefits. It helps with stress management, promotes self-love and does not limit anyone to enjoy the sport.”

And that is why it is a stretch if you think yoga is just a fad.