Australians turn to yoga over traditional sports

An Australian Sports Commission spokeswoman said COVID-19 accelerated the trend towards individual physical activities rather than organised sport, which suffered disruptions and cancellations during the pandemic.

“Australians aged 15 and up are participating in more activities like yoga that can be done flexibly or in a physically distanced way,” she said.

Yoga instructor Shivani O’Brien leads an outdoor class at Shelly Beach in Cronulla.

Yoga instructor Shivani O’Brien leads an outdoor class at Shelly Beach in Cronulla.Credit:Brook Mitchell

Besides exercise, organised sport also provides additional benefits such as providing participants with a sense of belonging, cultural identity and being part of a team, she said.

The rising proportion of inactive Australians suggests physical activity was made a priority during lockdowns “but as life returns to normal it’s no longer as important”, she said.

Shivani O’Brien’s yoga practice includes outdoor classes in Cronulla as well as meditation and online tantric courses.


“Many of my students are surfers, and they say they enjoy how yoga helps them with their balance and hip flexibility,” she said.

Other students appreciated the non-competitive and peaceful environment where they can forget about work and family stresses and focus on themselves, she said.

The majority of O’Brien’s students are women, but she said more men are showing up to her classes.

“Some men say they come to meet women and some men join as they see how helpful it has been to their partner and they want similar physical and mental health benefits,” she said.

Yoga and Pilates is also big business: market researcher IBISWorld has forecasted Australian revenue to grow 1.5 per cent to $683 million in the next five years after a downturn caused by lockdowns that reduced participation rates for paid classes.


IBISWorld industry analyst Ekaterina Ezhova said booming at-home yoga and Pilates participation rates boosted consumer spending on equipment and accessories during the pandemic.

The director of the health and physical education program at the University of Sydney, Steve Georgakis, said the meaning of sport had changed with more people opting for “body beautiful, weight-loss physical activities”.

“All physical activity is great but sitting in a gym with headphones on listening to Dua Lipa is not as beneficial as being part of a team environment,” he said.


Georgakis said traditional sports were losing their attraction for kids, while governments had “ripped the heart out of physical education and school sport”.

There is so much focus on giving a youth a reason to opt out – cost, culture, focus, non-mandating in class, safety, time constraints – that not surprisingly they then don’t make it a priority,” he said.

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