Washington: With over 20 million people in the US practising yoga and spending $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, it has become associated less with spirituality and more with medicine and fitness, says a study.

The study by a California-based university argues that the shift in the meanings is due to the changes in how yoga gurus are trained, market contests among different meanings and the distinct branding practices of small and big players in the market.

“Over the three decade analysis of the yoga market we found that it was decreasingly associated with the logic of spirituality and increasingly associated with the medical and fitness logics,” said study co-author Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, assistant professor at the Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics.

“Commercialisation also emerged and yoga became increasingly commoditised with the rising coverage of yoga brands, gear, clothing, and retreats,” Coskuner-Balli noted.

The researchers found that today 20.4 million Americans practise yoga -- up from 4.3 million in 2001.

They spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, vacations and media -- constituting an increase of 80 percent in just four years.

The US yoga market density has been increasing with yoga enterprises rising from 14,058 to 26,506 and the number of employers increasing from 58,525 to 112,890 during the 2004-2013 period, the findings showed.

“What we discovered was that the US yoga market delineated itself not only in the different types of yoga that emerged, but also in the logic behind why people do yoga,” Coskuner-Balli said.

The researchers gathered data via archival sources, netnography, in-depth interviews and participant observations to examine how the meaning of yoga transformed in the past three decades.

Sources trace the beginning of yoga in the United States to Swami Vivekananda’s speech representing Hinduism at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.

During the first half of the 20th century, yoga was construed mainly as a spiritual practice linked to mysticism, magic, and asceticism with religiophilosophical underpinnings and an emphasis on Raja yoga (the mental science) rather than Hatha yoga (physical yoga), the study pointed out.

The study was published in the Journal of Marketing.