Hinduism Contemporary Globalized and Commercialized Yoga
Shameem Black
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0260


By the late twentieth century, yoga had become widely available around the world and accessible through commercial markets. The globalization and commercialization of yoga represent distinct yet interconnected developments. In this period, as in the past, concepts of yoga were remediated to suit changing social and political needs through new institutions and discourses. Health, wellness, and fitness cultures; spiritual and devotional regimes; and expanding media connectivities were key forces that helped to integrate yoga into diverse societies. These mediating forces helped to configure yoga as a tool for expansive forms of life guidance. The rising appeal of yoga often reflected the pressures of expanding capitalisms in these parts of the world. As many states have withdrawn forms of welfare provisioning and their economies have grown more reliant on precarious labor, yoga has appealed to many people as an alternative form of health care, spiritual valuation, and ideal person-making that can help them withstand the pressures and precarities of everyday life. This growth in popularity within and beyond India, especially in the West and in East Asia, has thus raised important questions about the ideals, values, and identities that are produced and promoted through the practice. It has prompted new scholarly inquiries into the economic dimensions of yoga, with questions of cost, access, and profit revealing key hierarchies that shape the expanded profile of yoga around the world. In different geographical contexts, yoga has sometimes been appropriated to the needs of socially privileged groups and used to naturalize those advantages in ways that can obscure unequal structures. At the same time, yoga has also been harnessed to counteract or critique such uneven landscapes of power. Scholars have thus sought to understand the intersecting social hierarchies and (neo-)imperial configurations that are amplified and potentially challenged through the practice. Work in the humanities and social sciences has questioned how the globalization and commercialization of yoga affects how the practice changes in places like India, where transnational dynamics and market mechanisms intersect with local histories and alternative economies. Trends in scholarship have explored how yoga is categorized, analyzing debates around whether yoga should be understood as religious and whether it should be considered culturally South Asian. Scholars have queried how yoga is imagined in literature, art, and media to understand how these representations often challenge or complicate previous forms of yogic authority and significance. Finally, trends in scholarship have investigated the connections and tensions between yoga’s liberating and repressive social potential. Such work charts how yoga in contemporary globalized and commercialized contexts can be understood in light of broader conversations around power, decoloniality, neoliberalism, and social justice.

General Overview

From the late twentieth century through the first decades of the twenty-first, yoga in globalized and commercialized contexts has generally been understood as a constellation of mind-body practices aimed at holistic well-being or spiritual development. Physical postures have often been at the forefront of this understanding within health, wellness, and fitness cultures, while meditative, devotional, and metaphysical approaches have tended to figure prominently within transnational spiritual empires that merge religious and capitalist practices. New regimes of space and time, often keyed to broader social and economic transformations that shape the working day for the middle classes, have come to characterize how, where, and by whom yoga is taught and practiced. Through a broad historical sweep, Newcombe and O’Brien-Kop 2021 and Baier, et al. 2018 offer diverse points of entry into yoga’s global and commercial transformations. This work is especially valuable for shedding light on understudied regions of East Asia and Latin America, showing how a discourse of Indian-inspired yoga has sometimes been used as a way to revive or remediate existing practices. De Michelis 2004 offers an intellectual genealogy of late-19th and early-20th-century transformations that provides key foundations for how yoga globalized and commercialized over the course of the century. Singleton and Byrne 2008 provides an interdisciplinary approach that investigates how yoga is defined, how it takes shape within changing structures of authority, and how it produces strong experiential effects for different constituencies. Foxen and Kuberry 2021 offers a student-oriented introduction that attributes the rise of modern globalized and commercialized approaches to an entangled history of Indian and Western practices. Clark and Greene 2022 analyzes philosophical and practical elements of teaching yoga, providing multidimensional resources for teachers to understand the significance of their work in the twenty-first century. Collectively, these works suggest that yoga in diverse diverse global and commercialized contexts is often a complex mix of cultural practices, ideas, and legacies from different parts of the world.

  • Baier, Karl, Philipp A. Maas, and Karin Preisendanz, eds. Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Gottingen, Germany: V&R Unipress, 2018.

    Invites comparison between contemporary and premodern forms of yoga. Explores the transformations of yoga in the early twentieth century that established key conditions of possibility for yoga in its 21st-century globalized forms.

  • Clark, Edward, and Laurie A. Greene. Teaching Contemporary Yoga: Physical Philosophy and Critical Issues. New York: Routledge, 2022.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781003181910

    Aimed at yoga teachers, this multidisciplinary volume explores yoga as an experimental form of embodied philosophy that takes shape within complex social, economic, and political dynamics. Combines scholarly analysis with practical guidance for teachers.

  • De Michelis, Elizabeth. A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism. London and New York: Continuum, 2004.

    Constructs a history of intellectual exchange between Indian and Western thinkers to offer an important foundation for understanding how yoga operates in contemporary contexts.

  • Foxen, Anya, and Christa Kuberry. Is This Yoga? Concepts, Histories, and the Complexities of Modern Practice. London: Routledge, 2021.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780429422973

    Aimed at undergraduate students and yoga teachers, this volume aims to complicate widespread assumptions about yoga by investigating its concepts, histories, and current social significance. Chapters on the 21st-century focus on the influence of guru cultures, neoliberal business models, and discourses of health and wellness.

  • Newcombe, Suzanne, and Karen O’Brien-Kop, eds. Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 2021.

    Situates contemporary globalized and commercialized yoga in the broad and diverse context of premodern practices and concepts. Offers insights into how yoga has been popularized within understudied regions, such as East Asia and Latin America.

  • Singleton, Mark, and Jean Byrne, eds. Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2008.

    Presents diverse articles from different disciplinary perspectives, presenting useful points of inquiry into how contemporary yoga has taken shape.

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