On the 19th July, IYA team including Prof Kambhampati Subrahmanyam, Sri DR Kaarthikeyan and Ravi Tumuluri visited Rajarajeshwari Temple and paid their respects to Sri Sri Sri Jayendra Puri Mahaswamiji, the present pontiff of Sri Kailash Ashrama Mahasamshtana. Sri Sri Sri Tiruchi Swamigal was the…
A brief report on the survey conducted among members of IYA by the School of Yoga Therapy, ISCM of Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth, Associate Centre, Indian Yoga Association
Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani,
Yogachemmal Dr R Balaji , Yogasadhaki Malini Sara
Professor Yoga Therapy and Director, Institute of Salutogenesis and Complementary Medicine (ISCM) of Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth, Pondicherry.
Assistant Professor, School of Yoga Therapy, ISCM of Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth, Pondicherry.
PhD Candidate ECU Perth WA, Australia.
Yoga can mean many things to many people. During many of our Executive Committee meetings over the past few years, we have often wondered, “What do our dear IYA members consider Yoga to be?”
In order to find out some answers, this survey was undertaken by the School of Yoga Therapy, Institute of Salutogenesis & Complementary Medicine (ISCM) of Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth, Pondicherry which is an Associate Member of IYA.
On behalf of the Indian Yoga Association we surveyed its members through email lists and social media channels and sought their responses via a Google form with a questionnaire. A total of 487 responses were received over a one-month survey period between 4 April and 4 May 2023. Questions were largely multiple-choice and allowed some individual answers.
Results and discussion:
Survey respondents by gender included 255, or 52.4% males, and 232, or 47.6% females. Other gendered options were not selected. Males ranged in age from 18-76 years while females ranged from 19-79 years of age. The average age for male participants was 46 years and for females, 43.
Indian nationality comprised 90.8%, or 444 people, of which it is noted that a small number identified as Hindu or Bharatiya. There were 19 other nationalities among 44 participants and while 443 live in India, 45 people live in 23 different countries. Within the organisation, another layer of diversity is visible with IYA Chapter representation from at least 26 states.
Persons with over 20 years of Yoga experience is the largest cohort, more than one in four, or 27%. The duration of practice for the next category of 10-20 years was only 0.8% higher than the 5-10 year group. This means that more than half of the 487 participants have over 10 years, and three-quarters over five years of practice behind them. For the newer-comers, only 8.2% had less than 3 years and almost 14% were in the 3-5 year range. Interestingly, two-thirds of non-Indian participants are women of middle age with all bar two having more than 10 and most often, over 20 years of experience in yoga.
IYA membership includes 52.4% life members of IYA, 36.6% professional members & 11.1% volunteer members of IYA.
Understanding of Yoga
Is Yoga religious and what is Yoga? The first two questions regarding how respondents understand Yoga relate to one another because they indicate both how religious and non-religious models correlate to how Yoga and religion are defined by practitioners, and whether this depends on stages of experience, or if influenced by any associated Yoga institute. The findings demonstrate that within cohorts and schools of thought, a range of views are held, some of which are complex as multiple options were selected by many.
The survey reveals an important finding that most participants say Yoga is not religious, at around 80%, or 389 people. Of those, 349 also said that Yoga is a ‘way of life’. What makes this result more complex is that 167, almost half of the ‘way of life’ respondents selected more than one reply, nine of whom agreed with all seven possible answers. Of the ‘not religious’ category, only one replied ‘Body work’, and had 5-10 years of experience. One other ‘no’ answer defines Yoga only as ‘exercise’ and says it is a good way to maintain health.
Another fifty respondents said it was exercise but they also selected more than one other category, meaning very few people regard Yoga as exercise alone. Fifteen of ‘no’ answers thought that Yoga was only ‘skillful action’, but not religious. ‘Conscious evolution’ is how 38 of the ‘no’ replies were answered. Five people only selected that Yoga is ‘spirituality’ but nonreligious, joining with 115 others who selected no, but who had more than one response. What this means is that a significant number, 1:4 of the total respondents, did not view Yoga as religious but did view it as a spiritual modality.
For the 71 people who said Yoga is religious, there were again many ideas around what it was. The answers indicate that religious practice is more than discrete observance for Yoga proponents. For example, eight said it was religious, and it was ‘conscious evolution’. Four said it was a ‘lifestyle’. Twenty-three included ‘spirituality’ in their answers, most of whom selected more than one option. Two-thirds, or 52 of the ‘yes’ answers, also checked ‘way of life’, with exactly half of those adding more than one response. What these findings indicate is that there is much in common between those who state Yoga is not religious and those who say it is with regard to ‘lifestyle’ or ‘way of life’ integration. Of those who said it was religious, for example, only two claimed ‘spirituality’ and six said ‘conscious evolution’ alone. What this means is that religion and spirituality for the remainder is not isolated from their ordinary lives.
Around 1:20 of the total respondents were either not sure or replied ‘maybe’, being 0.7% and 4.8% respectively. All who said they were not sure agreed it was a ‘way of life’. Of the 23 who said Yoga was maybe religious, 18 also agreed that Yoga was a ‘way of life’. Out of 487 respondents, 394 or 80% said it was a ‘way of life’. What this reveals is that there is as much agreement that it is a way of life as there is that Yoga is not religious.
For the 80% or 394 who defined Yoga as a way of life, there were 208 who said it was more than just that.
The third question, ‘What is the best way to learn Yoga?’ was answered with a single response from 284 and multiple responses from 203 people. ‘Finding a Guru’ received 140 single responses and was selected by a further 173 with multiple responses, making a total of 313, or 64% of the total. Joining a reputed Yoga institution received 90 single answers and formed part of a further 258, bringing the total to 348 or 71%. Reading books alone was selected by only 2 people as the sole means to learn, with 85 others agreeing it is one of several ways to learn. Yoga courses received 52 single responses with 107 further complex answers, taking the total to one-third, or 159 people who thought courses were one of the best ways to learn Yoga. No participants selected ‘through social media’ alone, although 13 people included it as a means to learn. The popularity of learning Yoga through association with a reputed Yoga institute was less popular than finding a Guru as a single response, however combined with other means, including finding a Guru, or Yoga Courses and Guru brought the level to more than finding a Guru alone. What this indicates is that finding a Guru, association with a reputable Yoga institute and learning through courses, combined, is a more desirable way to learn Yoga for the majority than any single response alone.
Question four asked whether it is appropriate to take a Satwic diet for Yoga. This is generally understood as the avoidance of foods that are either stimulating or depressive, such as Rajasic or Tamasic food. The answers were 96% affirmative with 466 saying yes. The remainder was divided between ‘not sure’ by three respondents, ‘no’ by another three, and ‘maybe’ for 15 people. These results indicate that a balanced and uplifting selection of healthy food is considered important to almost everyone.
The fifth and sixth questions were to gauge the extent of critical thinking among Yoga proponents about how Yoga is reductively presented by separating aspects of Yoga from the main body of practice as if distinct. The questions were, ‘Do you agree with the statement Yoga and Meditation?’ and ‘Do you agree with the statement Yoga and Pranayama?’ The majority of respondents, at over half, or 55% for each question, agreed with the statements. 268 people agreed with the first question and the same number agreed with the second. Those who disagreed with the first and second were 194 and 198 respectively.
What this indicates is a need for critical thinking skills and an emphasis on integrative approaches to yoga education and marketing. The implication that meditation or Pranayama are something additional to Yoga implies that Yoga probably means Asana for those who affirmed this, as Asana is before Pranayama and Dhyana in the eightfold path.
The majority of answers were either consistently yes or no although there were 18 ambivalent replies. Those who said maybe to the first and no to the second numbered five. ‘Maybe’ with ‘not sure’ is only one. Maybe to the first with yes to the second were four people. Of those who said no to the first question and maybe to the second, there were only two people. Seven people said no to the first question and yes to the second. Answers ‘not sure’ to the first question came from five people, and of those, only two were consistent. Five said either ‘not sure’ and ‘maybe’, or ‘not sure’ and no.
Eleven respondents answered yes to the first question and something else for the second. Of those eleven, the answers were ‘maybe’ for three, ‘no’ for six, and ‘not sure’ for one. This means that 32 people or 6% did not understand the nature of the question, suggesting that critical thinking skills, such as jnana yoga for viveka would benefit around 1 in 20 people surveyed. The inconsistent responses included highly experienced people with more than five years and many with more than 20 years of experience.
The medical powers of Yoga are raised by the seventh question: ‘Do you feel Yoga can cure all diseases?’ The operative word here is ‘cure-all’ and the question was to assess the degree to which Yoga proponents understood Yoga therapy as complementary medicine or as a replacement for other forms of healthcare.
The 19.5% who answered ‘maybe’ had experience in general proportion to the overall cohort with only minimal variation.
Those who said ‘no’ that yoga cannot cure all diseases with over 20 years experience were around 11% more represented in this answer than the baseline cohort. Other groups had less variance from their peers.
Of all the age groups, those with more experience, are least likely to reply yes that Yoga can cure all diseases, as are the 3-5 year range. Other groups did not diverge far from their base proportions. This could indicate some resistance among older generations to more innovative, science-based evidence models, especially given the comparative lack of similar attitude among new-comers.
The eighth question was about new Yoga brands that deviate significantly and use novelty factors to attract consumers. While a firm rejection of the products as Yoga is clear by the 75% majority who say ‘they are not Yoga’, it is concerning that 25% support this, don’t know or think that ‘everything is Yoga’.
Those who say Doga, Beer, Nude Yoga ‘are to be encouraged’ include a person who identifies as a ‘Yoga Guru’ with a PhD in Yoga. Three others are PhD students. Those who say that ‘everything is Yoga’ have the following experience: 28.6% have 20+ years, 23.8% have 10-20 years; 19% have 5-10 years, 23.8% have 3-5 years and there were 4.8% with less than 3 years. According to the base demographic, the highest variation from the norm was the 3-5 years group who were 10% more represented than their peers. People with the least experience were only half as likely to say this.
Scientific research and Yoga is the topic of the ninth question. There is an effective consensus that scientific research of yoga is necessary. Those who say no are 61% male and 39% female, a slight increase of male to female likelihood. 67% of those who say scientific research is not necessary also say that Yoga can cure all diseases, which is 18% higher than the 48.7% response from the total cohort. 83% of the 18 who say no also say that Yoga therapy is part of Yoga. Combined, the 46 people who did not reply ‘yes’ are from as many institutions as there are people.
In the tenth question, the necessity of Yogasana sport was asked and 59.9% approved. The remainder were the 23.7% who say ‘no’, 11.5% who say ‘maybe’ and ‘not sure’ which rounds to 5%.
Almost everyone knows when International Day of Yoga (IDY) is celebrated and when it was launched. Those who replied at question eleven that IDY is on June 21, however, did not all know the year of commencement in 2015. Nine of those who know the day thought it started in 2000, 11 said 2010, and 28 said 2019. Those who did not know the day, also did not tend to know the year.
At question thirteen, respondents were asked whether Yoga is limited to either age or gender. An overwhelming majority know that it isn’t. The tiny group who said ‘yes’, or 17 people, comprise 58.8% males and 41.2% females.
The next question, number fourteen, again reached near unanimous affirmation, with 87.9% saying that Yoga Therapy is part of Yoga. Of the remaining responses, 2.9% said maybe, 2.1% said they’re ‘not sure’ while 7.2% said ‘no.’
The 35 people who said that Yoga therapy was not part of Yoga include 14 who believe that Yoga also cures all diseases and 18 who do not. The 51.4% of those who did not approve of Yoga Therapy as part of Yoga AND do not agree that Yoga cures all diseases are more consistent than the 40% who say Yoga is a cure-all but Yoga Therapy is not part of Yoga.
Finally, questions fifteen and sixteen are ‘Describe why you like Yoga’ and ‘Describe in 3 lines why and how you recommend Yoga to others.’
Why I like Yoga:
- Yoga is the path of freedom, love and fullness. It is the source of the vitality, joy, and wisdom of life itself. Yoga is divine knowledge that awakens divinity within oneself and the universe.
- For me Yoga is an evolution that takes man from better to better. It is a process to be with Yourself.
- It gives me the strength to cope with any situation in my life. It gives me the opportunity to know myself. It keeps me closer to nature. Individualised practice for self-evolution
- Yoga is my passion
- Yoga is life
- It is the best and the first lifestyle ever designed. It is a gem of our cultural heritage.
- Yoga is a way of healthy life.
- Immunity booster is yoga
- It assists my evolution. It helps my physical and mental health.
- It’s a holistic way of life that channelizes the person towards self-realisation. I have become calm, cool and composed after practising it for all these years. It brings about physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual growth.
- Yoga is good for maintaining physical & mental health
- It helps to find the purpose of life
- It helps me to stay energetic
- It makes me flexible
- India’s gift to the world for healthy living
- It is the most effective way to move from I to WE, from Aham to Brahman
- Yoga is life and beyond life
- Yoga is everything where body & mind unite.
- Holistic spiritual life
- I like yoga because it had changed my life
- It gives blissfulness.
- It liberates me. Connects me to my Self. Calms me.
- Ease to practice, no need for costly equipment.
- Yoga connects me with myself.
- Yoga is a lifestyle which is there in our DNA.
- It keeps me stronger and calmer
- Transformed my life physically, mentally and on a consciousness level
- Yoga cultivates self-discipline
- It’s complete wellbeing
- Realise that everybody have a mind and soul connected with the Universe. Doing yoga every day, I feel that nothing can touch me, I am above the problems, issues and everything.
How to recommend Yoga to others:
- They set an example with their practices for others to follow
- They recommend yoga to others for the purpose of world peace
- To lead content & happy life with yoga
- Yoga helps to manage stress & it will change their lives
- Because it brings joy, meaning, wellbeing and flexibility of body & mind to maintain equanimity & resilience within an unpredictable world.
- Safe, cost-effective & positive beneficial effects
- Yoga improves strength, balance (body, mind and soul) and flexibility. Long and Deep breathing increases blood flow and warm up muscles, while holding a pose can build strength.
- By practising yoga one can find peace and good health. People have understood how yoga helps to exercise and calm the mind. We describe to everyone in our classes if one practises yoga every day; they are on the path to leading a well-balanced life.
- Yoga enables us to manifest our humanity and attain our divinity. It enables holistic development of the individual and then mergence with the universal.
- For physical, mental, spiritual and social development.
- For a healthy life.
- Yoga is the science of being, art of living and power of transcending human consciousness.
- Yoga creates awareness of yourself in this fast track world. Not only addressing lifestyle disorders but also helps in prevention and management. It augments other medicinal systems very well. Yoga helps to create inner peace to accept and not to expect leading a healthy way of life.
- Yoga is recommended for everyone in order to live a healthy life.
- To make better choices and enhance one’s capability of living life more responsibly and happily.
- Because of reaching high potential of consciousness and to be close to spirituality.
- For peace
- Yoga is the way is life
- Yoga is that way of living which improves your quality of life.
This survey among IYA members has thrown up some interesting findings and the research wing of IYA plans to undertake a massive worldwide survey to strengthen the perception of Yoga amongst the Yoga community worldwide. It is pertinent to note that much more education is needed to eradicate conflicting perceptions that tend to perceive components of Yoga as separate rather than as an integral and wholesome part of Yoga itself.
We express our gratitude to all the GC and EC members of IYA and especially to Pujya Maa Hansaji J Yogendra, the President of IYA and Shri Subodh Tiwari, Secretary General IYA for enabling this survey to take place. We thank all members of IYA who responded to this survey with enthusiasm as it would not have been possible with their participation.