Why did yoga become so popular?

This is the first in the series of stories about the world of yoga, brought to you by Yoganotch, the smart yoga assistant that gives live feedback on asana form when you practice alone. Yoganotch app is free on the App Store and can be paired with Yoganotch motion sensors for technique analysis and feedback.

Yoga is the fastest growing exercise in the US. Now more than 55 million people in the US practice yoga regularly[1]. Over 200 million (!) people have already tried it[2] and plan to practice it more next year. Of course, planning to practice and practicing is not the same. But if the history of yoga teaches us anything it is that yoga is not only here to stay, but is here to become even more popular. Why?

Yoga is popular thanks to a long list of natural and historical reasons.

Yoga is popular because it is REALLY effective. When practiced carefully and consistently yoga improves our well-being both subjectively and objectively. The purpose of yoga is self-fulfilling, enjoying your practice means to actually be well, as yoga benefits go way beyond the mat.

  • Yoga makes you happier. Over 80% of people who practice yoga experience a reduction in stress. And 1 out of 3 people says that yoga makes them “very happy”. When was the last time you felt “very happy”, before or after Savasana?
  • Yoga makes us less lonely. Even if you practice alone, connecting with yourself through yoga will help you feel less alone.
  • Yoga leads to.. more yoga. Two-thirds of people who practice yoga go on to exercise more regularly.
  • With yoga, you want to become healthier. 4 out of 10 people who practice yoga even change their diet and start eating healthier. It all begins with a Sun Salutation.

Yoga’s benefits don’t just stop at making you feel better. By this time lots of studies have shown that yoga can help us improve some of the most serious health conditions.

  • Yoga improves memory. A study has shown that just one session of yoga improves both speed and accuracy of working memory[3] It makes it easier to remember that you need to do more yoga.
  • Yoga helps with lower back pain. Numerous studies have shown that yoga course can help with lower back pain and even reduce the need for pain-killers[4]! Another study shown that is is possible to use yoga as physical therapy for lower back pain[5] It may be just as effective! And the benefits of yoga will last for several months[6]
  • Yoga improves balance. More and more research shows that yoga is effective at improving our sense of balance[7].
  • Yoga makes you flexible. Surprise, surprise? Even if you are older or even old, yoga will still help you improve flexibility. And you don’t need to be a life-long practitioner to become more flexible. After just 1 year of heath yoga a group of 69+-year-olds have shown an increase of over 22 points in the range of motion. That’s like a difference between being able to tie your shoelaces by yourself and not.

The list of yoga health benefits can go on. You can become stronger, happier, healthier, and more balanced with yoga. There is just one condition. You should practice consistently and carefully. Luckily with yoga, every next practice comes easier.

If yoga makes you healthier and happier, is it enough to make it popular? Why would yoga that has been around for thousands of years explode in popularity in the early 21st century? Did the world suddenly wake up to understand, what is the meaning of yoga.?

First of all where yoga originates and when was yoga invented do not lead us to the same point in time and space. Yes, asana roots may go deep into hinduism. Hatha yoga is traced back to 11th century and there are numerous theories of where did yoga come from more specifically. But the form of yoga that most of us practice today is a relatively modern system. Our yoga is very much a reflection of our times.

  • Yoga is young. Modern yoga is just over 100 years old. The person in the west is seen as someone who created yoga, was Swami Vivekananda[8]. In 1893 he introduced yoga at The Parliament of the World’s Religions. So if we ask how long has yoga been around, then the ideas of yoga may be 5000 years old, but yoga meaning physical practice that we enjoy is barely 100 years old. And even in the last 100 years it has changed a lot! From focusing on gymnastics of yoga poses to becoming a sociocultural wellness phenomenon.
  • Yoga is revolutionary. Yes, helps you become more centered and more connected with yourself. But in the early days, yoga was a man’s sport. In 1930 Indra Devi asked famous Indian teacher Krishnamacharya to teach her. He rejected her based on gender. It took Indra’s determination and connections with maharajas and Mahatma Ghandi to convince Krishnamacharya. Indra Devi later returned to the US as a first female yoga guru and went on to open the first yoga studio in Hollywood[9] and a role model for the generation of yogis[10].
  • Yoga is inclusive. Yoga really became popular in the US when the country lifted the ban on immigration. Once people from India could come to the US, the number of yoga schools started to grow exponentially.

Yoga has become the perfect reflection of our times. Yoga is old and new. It managed to stay in touch with its 5000-year-old roots but changed as the times changed and helped us change with it. Maybe being able to stay the same and change at the same time is, in fact, the very nature of popularity.

Links

1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/605355/us-yoga-participation/
2. https://www.eventbrite.com/blog/academy/yoga-events-business/
3. https://www.academia.edu/3145421/The_Acute_Effects_of_Yoga_on_Executive_Function
4. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(17)30290-8/fulltext
5. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M16-2579
6. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1106098
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728955/
8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Vivekananda
9. https://www.yogajournal.com/people/indra-devi
10. http://amazingwomeninhistory.com/indra-devi-mother-of-western-yoga/

Yoganotch is a personal yoga assistant that gives voice feedback on your yoga form when you practice at home. Created by Notch Interfaces, New York company.

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