Post-Lockdown: An opportunity to regain Aatma nirbharta in Yoga
• Over the years, trade in yoga, an Indian health practice was widely taken over by other nations. For example, the US has set up the famous Yoga Alliance, China dominated in supply of yoga mats, etc.
• But now the COVID-19 crisis has led different age groups in India to actively take up yoga and meditation. The time has come to rather move ‘inside’ by building and sustaining higher capacities within India, i.e., ‘Aatma nirbharta/self-reliance’ in yoga.
• If utilised properly, Lockdowns/Unlocks could be the right opportunities to map demand and supply in different districts/zones of India, plan the required resources, and manage their availability all-round the year.
• Eventually, with better governmental support, Indian yoga institutes can dynamically propagate yoga services outside India by way of targeted exports. Concurrently, Indian firms can also emerge as key yoga accessories’ exporters.
The most endorsed mantra since Lockdown 1.0 has been ‘if you can’t go outside, go inside’ with more awareness for improved public health and hygienic society. Its implications also exist in gauging immense hidden potential and strengthening the economic well-being of Indian yoga industry.
The country has been missing this bus ever since the beginning of the 20th century, wherein US has taken over with the famous Yoga Alliance, China dominated in supply of yoga mats, etc. But now COVID crisis has actually led different age groups in India to actively take up yoga and meditation. This was first evidenced in topical media coverage when almost 2 lakh people from 50 countries participated in India’s Sahaja Yoga Meditation online sessions held during lockdown 1.0. Along with the AYUSH Ministry’s guidelines on immunity and at least 30 minutes yogic practices, many Indian yoga institutes and teachers during lockdown period (March-May 2020) have mainly offered free online sessions, viz. daily live meditation at fixed times by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
That is, the time has come to rather move ‘inside’ by building and sustaining higher capacities within India, i.e., ‘Aatma nirbharta/self-reliance’ in yoga. Eventually, with better governmental support, Indian yoga institutes can dynamically propagate yoga services outside India by way of their targeted exports. Concurrently, Indian firms can emerge as key yoga accessories’ exporters. International Day of Yoga (IDY) 2020 could be the stepping stone to move up the ladder.
‘YouTube videos’ have been the most preferred ways for uploading lessons owing to high viewership and global outreach. They have increased during lockdown for teaching yoga to protect people from Coronavirus and its fear, and sustain routines for beginners, kids and office-goers. Illustratively, the official YouTube account of ‘The Yoga Institute’ has uploaded 66 videos during March 25-May 3, 2020 (40 days lockdown) to promote yoga at home with regular asanas’ sessions and lectures ‘Parisamvada’ (live ones during Lockdown 1.0), including quarantine and life management advices (18 videos). In contrast, total uploads were just about 22 (with 3 related to Coronavirus) during the pre-lockdown period of February 16-March 24 (38 days when virus spread began in India).
Further, the Institute has floated an online Teacher’s Training Course (TTC) since May 2020, along with 21 days better living online course. Similarly, Mokshayatan International Yogashram with official YouTube channel of ‘Bharat Yoga’ has uploaded about 60 videos to provide general diseases-based yoga and wisdom talks, but mainly 34 ones on quarantine/lockdown yoga, meditation and home remedies during Lockdowns 1.0-2.0, as compared to just 23 yoga videos uploaded during pre-lockdown aforementioned period (with 3 videos related to COVID).
These trends clearly indicate spread of yoga as a priority for India’s institutes and teachers – another group deserving thankfulness as coronavirus helpers. The Indian government also needs to work out the economics on how to keep many large as well as small- and medium-level yoga institutes of India as going concerns. Although online classes have mushroomed, are these also acting as sources of secured incomes? Owing to the pandemic, the demand for yoga is high and may exponentially rise further in India as well as abroad mainly with the condition of ‘Yoga at Home’. Unlock 1.0 has begun, but the demand curve for yoga is likely to be relatively inelastic as people may need it on a daily basis as essential services, whether available freely or by paying a certain price.
During lockdowns 1.0-2.0, supply curve for local service providers as ‘Yoga from Home’ remained close to perfectly inelastic, such that they provided free online sessions irrespective of the payment received. This trend may endure for few months; however there will be gradual openings of paid online courses such as on TTCs – already initiated by few institutes as per the demands so as to earn revenue. Capitalising on such opportunities can help yoga to get its required recognition in India, at least in the short run, till the effect of virus lasts as well as in the field of services trade.
There were apprehensions on teaching yoga online due to difficulty in monitoring the postures performed by students and in moving against the Guru-Shishya tradition. But, since the lockdown, many institutes have started offering their regular classes via Instagram Live, Facebook Live, etc. such as by Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Ashrams & Centres. Individual teachers are also conducting conduct sessions via Skype, Zoom, etc. to earn income.
Importantly, major earnings for Indian yoga institutes while trading services have emanated through Mode 3 (commercial presence – when they invest in foreign countries by opening up yoga centres therein) and Mode 2 (consumption abroad – when consumers/students move to India for availing the services/attending classes). Over time, a number of yoga centres abroad have been set up by Art of Living Foundation, Isha Foundation, etc.
Since the launch of Internationa Yoga Day, trade via Mode 4, i.e., movement of professionals, has also grown rapidly, viz. many Indian missions abroad have appointed a Teacher of Indian culture to teach yoga. Discussions have also been highlighted within India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement of 2018 to allow cross-border movement of professionals and investments. But COVID has and will further hit trade in yoga services via three modes of supply hard. These have been major foreign exchange earners for Indian institutes, who struggle to get a space vis-à-vis Westerners.
An alternative economic mindset can thus support the practice of yoga during COVID and post-lockdowns: reinforce local values in Indian yoga industry and take them to the global level via Mode 1 (cross-border supply). The idea now is to create funding by suitably supplying services through telecom, internet, etc. In fact, Americans actively picked up yoga after an announcement by Indian Embassy in US in end-March 2020 for conducting online classes.
If utilised properly, Lockdowns/Unlocks could be the right time to map demand and supply in different districts/zones of India, plan the required resources, and manage their availability all-round the year. Number of yoga teachers with required education and experiences can be given monetary incentives to open official online classes district-wise (to maintain social distancing). More funds must be allocated to the AYUSH Ministry with help for capacity building in their affiliated research councils/centres, who can then provide better backing to yoga institutes. Overall, India can act as a home country by specifically running online TTCs for foreigners for a longer duration to manage finances.
Better linkages between manufacturing firms-Ministry-yoga institutes’ can also remove inequality while supplying services and yoga accessories, which can even be afforded by lower-middle class. After lockdown, firms are required to build up competitive domestic value chains (as part of Make in India) in yoga mats, yoga clothing, neti pots, etc. by using eco-friendly locally available materials and manpower, and by employing advanced yet renewable and cost-effective technologies. Meanwhile, detailed research is required to assess the potential, identify the barriers in yoga services and accessories’ exports, and to bring out a do-able action plan.
Dr Neha Gupta is Fellow at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) and yoga practitioner. Views expressed in the article are personal.