by Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya
MPH MD (Family Medicine)
PhD (Ayurveda ‑ BHU)
Yoga teachers love to boast about the popularity of yoga. Yoga Journal details a $16 B industry boosting the wellness economy of the USA for over a decade. Societies of yoga researchers hold conferences showing medical research on the efficacy of yoga. Endorsed at the highest government levels, an International Day of Yoga has been supported by at least 177 countries in the United Nations, held on the summer solstice, known for millennia as dakshina-ayana, the journey south. Ask a health care professional and s/he needs to know what yoga is, something that was unnecessary 30 years ago.
For a practice to take hold and grab the interest of so many people globally in a matter of three decades is a phenomenon for marketing experts to study. Market gurus look at icons, disruptors of current trends, and marketing techniques that hijack the psychology of the innocent consumer to get them on a yoga mat, when fear of disease could not get them to exercise. It is an opportunity to capture their dollar while capturing their attention and making them healthier consumers for longer.
This boom in yoga was driven by the Baby Boomers, a cohort of 76 million in the USA born between 1944 and 1964, representing that large group raised just after World War II. Having seen none of the war but having parents who did, they wanted liberation from the heavy feelings and they wanted escape into pleasure. They are now 56-76 years old. They own most of the money, and they are dying off fast. They are the first generation to have Alzheimer’s Disease en masse.
Boomers experimented with new ways of conquering disease, exploring yoga and aerobic exercise and running and jogging and skiing as solutions to the heart disease and chronic ailments that cropped up alongside the convenience of remote control devices. They are the only ones on the planet who know how to use all types of telephones, from the wall-attached, to the tabletop, to the portable teenage plastic, to the cordless, to the walkie-talkie cell, to the cellphone, to the mobile device. The ones that practice yoga for the past thirty years are the ones that embody, “60 is the new 30.” They are fit, and they are serious about the good life being simple, relationship-oriented, fitness aware, and they value street smarts as well as a book.
The parents of the Boomers were the Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1945 and raised during wars, economic calamity and tortures that made them survivors. Largely Conservative to survive, they conserved the government policy and silently followed it to receive benefits and protection, willing to not think freely. They feared unfamiliar people and foreign faces. They clung to their religions to avoid persecution, and so they avoided being seen on a yoga mat or learning Sanskrit words. Their fear propagated the violence and racism that took the USA into the 1960s. Children of the Silent Generation, the Boomers expanded the need for countries to re-establish themselves after the World Wars, and profited from making the world a more comfortable place, investing in material wealth, technology and innovations that established safety. Many moved to new lands and defined social mobility, climbing from maid to millionaire.
The children of the Boomers were called Generation X because they were not predictable and wanted a new identity not attached to the identity of their parents. Over-educated and under-employed, they were born between 1965 and 1976, and referred to a teenage population that took advantage of the benefits their parents had created, technology and travel that the parents and grandparents never had growing up. Generation X grew up with cars, telephones, eating outside, and buying things of their own. They had birth control and condoms and nightclubs. This rebellious generation saw new vistas, were allowed to dream, and created a counterculture against the parents who had established boundaries for wealth that protected themselves and shut out Others. The Generation X culture prized thinking anew against the establishment. They sought new norms, and brought up their children to think freely, to love freely, and to travel freely and bring home new cultures. A home full of artifacts from around the world was considered more elite than a home of a local American culture. Gen X is unbridled, switching careers as often as they want and choosing what they want to define their life. They invented the bucket list. Because they CAN. Not knowing what a yoga mat is defines ignorance in Generation X.
Those kids of Generation X are called Generation Y. Their parents enjoy the best of technology, healthcare, and creativity. Gen Y benefits from society just by living in it. They are allowed to protest, and they are spending their formative years exploring. Gen Y was born between 1980 and 1994, currently 26 to 40 years old. They are called the Millennials because they became adults as they watched Y2K paralyze their late adolescence and then disappear as a hoax. They question sinister viruses of computerland, and they protect themselves from them.
Gen Y.2 is the older subset of Gen Y, 42 million people in the USA who are between 29 and 39 years old. They have mostly had their children, and they all own cellphones. And they are starting to get sick much earlier than their parents did. They grew up on cholesterol-free foods and are learning that we need cholesterol. They grew up in gas-guzzling cars and are learning that we need to use more bicycles. They grew up with large electronics in the house, and are learning to opt in for a mobile device and get rid of the clunky junky peripherals. They are going green, getting on their mats as they start to get arthritis, their first heart attacks, diabetes, and thyroid problems. They define the future of yoga.
The 31 million people of Gen Y.1 are the 25-29 year olds who have the greatest potential impact to change the health care system through the choices they make. They are Yearning consumers, fast outgrowing the Boomers and Generation X. If they choose to get on their yoga mats and subvert the epigenetics that are starting to settle onto their DNA, they have a chance of transforming the curve. If they look clearly at the data that Covid has gifted them, they will see that some of the “necessary” medicines their parents take are actually easily discontinued. All those elective procedures were more urgent for the doctor than for the patient. GenY has witnessed that many death sentences predicted by doctors in February are zealous, and stored the data for their own coming age-related illnesses.
Gen Y must see that outdoor gardens beat indoor man-caves. Playgrounds are better than play rooms with large screen TVs. Gen Y must learn parenting of their 74 million Gen Z kids, those born between 1995 and 2015, in the park and not in the mall. Spending time doing yoga with family and friends is more important for health than spending time surfing the ‘net for a gym or a health gadget.
Generation Y can choose yoga to reconnect the body-mind as the best strategy for health+care. They can eliminate the need for depending on hospitals for small ailments because they can access the internet and relearn self-care the way their great grandparents silently knew. Gen Y could transform the healthcare system by questioning why “health+care” is actually only disease management. As the elder population is getting eliminated by Covid, Gen Y may demand more preventive measures for their dollars and health promotion and education instead of profit-rocket pharmaceuticals. Yoga can help Gen Y turn the huge failure of the healthcare system on its side, making bodies resilient and minds strong as adults delaying their middle-age years. Gen Y can construct a new set of resources for the generations before them and the generations after.
Because Y is for Yoga.
The South Asian Times Columnist Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a Fulbright Specialist 2018‐2022 in Public
Health and Clinical Asst Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College,
New York. Her bestselling book Everyday Ayurveda is published by Penguin
Random House. [email protected]