One only needs to briefly browse through Chinese social media at the moment to notice a particular trend by avid yoga fans buzzing about their tips, stories, and pictures. In Beijing alone, there are around 500 or more yoga companies. Almost every gym also has its own yoga teacher. In 2011, an event was held in Jiangsu 江苏 province with thousands of people practising together. Next month, there is a China-India International Yoga Celebration being held in Chengdu 成都. The five day event include a flash mob, communal practices, information meetings, and more.
Some of the trend seems to be coming from the influence of Indian teaching. India actually has a Ministry for Yoga with an appointed minister at its head. This Indian influence has sparked an interesting angle of yoga vs. tai chi—something which will also feature at the Chengdu celebration in June. Recently in May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang 李克强 met India’s Prime Minister Modi at the Temple of Heaven where they held an event focusing on yoga vs. tai chi, with shows 400 people strong performing both activities. Both are considered precious parts of Eastern civilisations’ heritage and seek harmony between heaven, humans, and minds. A yoga college will later be established at a university in Yunnan 云南 province, focusing not just on the practise but also elements of Indian culture.
There is no single tangible factor which explains the popularity boom, but factors which play a role include the simplicity of the exercises, the novelty and people being a little more bored of other traditional sports , convenience—you can practice on your own or together, being able to customise your own exercises, and widespread availability. There are plenty of other reasons too, some personal to each individual but as a net effect it does certainly seem to be spreading throughout the country, for a multitude of different ages and, although originally more popular with females, many males have also begun to take an interest.
Despite all these reasons, there may be one in particular that explains why yoga might be particularly attractive to Chinese people at the moment—or to anyone. It is health benefits—rather than just physical exercise, yoga is seen to tone the body all over. Perhaps now that people are hoping to improve their summer bodies, this is why it is appearing so frequently. On top of this, it is not just physical exercise, but also contains a spiritual and psychological element which gives it an added layer of depth. Of course, there would be triggers for this all year round. At the moment, for example, there has been a surge of Chinese students who are studying for the Gao Kao 高考 (Chinese university entrance exam) aiming to de-stress and focus their minds.
It is therefore not surprising that there has been so much of a presence online—it is after all, self-fulfilling and the more people talk and share about it, the faster the trend is going to grow. Weibo, for example, is packed full with suggestions and reasons advertising why one should indeed take up yoga. My particular favourite pitch is perhaps the articles offering yoga practitioners the benefit of increasing their height—maybe the ability to add up to five centimeters through correction of posture—or boasting of success stories, such as the 86 year old Beijing King of Yoga who allegedly grew two centimeters due to his yoga practice. The benefits are clearly endless, offering something to satisfy everyone. Whether it is cultural exchange, health benefits, and spiritual wellbeing, it looks set to be another trend on the up in China.
For a different exercise enjoyed by Chinese people try Lights Out! Radio Exercise!
Alternatively, take a look at a few other sports recently bursting onto the scene in China such as Pole Dancing and American Football. Our latest magazine, The Startup Issue also contained a feature on Parkour – do keep an eye out for it!