Nearly all of us who live in urban areas across the world know someone who “does yoga” as it is colloquially put. And should we choose to do it ourselves, we need not travel farther than a neighborhood strip mall to purchase a yoga mat or attend a yoga class.
The amount of spending on yoga depends largely on brand. A consumer can purchase a pair of yoga pants with an unfamiliar brand at the popular retail store Target for $19.99 or purchase a pair from Lululemon, a high-end yoga-apparel brand that on average charges $98 for yoga pants. On Amazon, the consumer can choose from a variety of yoga mats with unfamiliar brands for under $20, or she can go to a specialty shop and purchase a stylish Manduka-brand yoga mat, which will cost as much as $100. And all that does not include the cost of yoga classes, which widely range from $5 to over $20 per class.
If a consumer is really dedicated to investing money in yoga, for thousands of dollars she can purchase a spot in a yoga retreat in locations throughout the United States, in Europe, or even in the Bahamas or Brazil, with yoga teachers marketing their own popular brands, such as Bikram Choudhury, whose brand is Bikram Yoga. Spending on yoga is steadily increasing. In the United States alone, spending doubled from $2.95 billion to $5.7 billion from 2004 to 2008 and climbed to $10.3 billion between 2008 and 2012.
Consumers convey the meaning of yoga, however, not only through what products and services they choose to purchase but also what they choose not to purchase. In other words, consumption can require exchange of money and commodities, and the amount of money spent on commodities largely depends on the brand choices of individual consumers. However, consumption can also lack an exchange of money and commodities. Many contemporary yoga practitioners, in fact, oppose the commodification of yoga by choosing free yoga services and rejecting certain yoga products.
For the founder of postural yoga brand Yoga to the People, Greg Gumucio, and those who choose the services associated with his brand, yoga’s meaning transcends its commodities. The anti-commodification brand of Yoga to the People signifies, quite directly, a very particular goal: a better world. It is believed that is possible as more and more people become self-actualized or come into their full being—yoga is “becoming”—through strengthening and healing their bodies and minds. The individual who chooses Yoga to the People still acts as a consumer even if consumption does not require the exchange of money. The consumer chooses Gumucio’s brand as opposed to others because of that brand’s success in capturing what yoga means to him or her.
Some yoga practitioners reject the yoga mat for its perceived over-commodification. The mat, for most practitioners of postural yoga, is a necessity, not just because it allows one to perform postures without slipping or to mark one’s territory in a crowded class, but also because it signifies various non-utilitarian meanings. The mat signifies a “liminal space” set apart from day-to-day life as one participates in a self-developmental ritual of rigorous physical practice. It is also often a status symbol. But yoga insiders who reject mats argue that they are not necessary, that they interfere with practice, and that they are simply commodities without any profound meaning. It is worth noting that the first purpose-made yoga mat was not manufactured and sold until the 1990s. Yoga practitioners who reject the mat choose brands of yoga that do not require the mat, such as Laughing Lotus, because those brands are believed to better signify the true meaning of yoga. For them, the meaning of yoga is experiential and transcends ownership of a commodity as seemingly arbitrary as a mat.