Yoga is incredibly popular in the United States, with over 48,547 studios throughout the nation as of 2023. The industry has been on a steady incline for years, showing no signs of stopping. There was a 5.3% increase in the number of yoga and pilates studios in the U.S. from 2022 to 2023, so the growth continues.
But why is yoga so popular? If you ask a handful of people in a yoga studio this question, you might end up with a handful of completely different answers, as everyone has their own reasons for practicing.
When Did Yoga Become So Popular?
Meandering through the history of yoga will take you on a long journey through time, rewinding the clock to its origin in northern India well over 5,000 years ago. The practice is thought to have been written around 2,700 BC, but pinpointing its origins is nearly impossible.
But while yoga has been around for centuries, it didn’t make its way to the Western world until relatively recently. Yoga didn’t start making its mark in the U.S. until the 1920s and 1930s, but even then, it was still fairly new to the scene.
The practice really took off in the 1970s during the exercise and fitness boom, as many people took an interest in intertwined spirituality and physical fitness. Since yoga marries the two in a single practice, it found its place in Western society.
As the years passed, yoga continued to evolve with the fitness industry, eventually rising to the star we know today. Its spiritual roots are all but lost in some aspects of the practice, especially in the U.S., as many folks view it as a form of exercise instead of a personal journey into the spirituality of the body and mind.
The Benefits Supporting Yoga’s Popularity
Everybody has their own reasons for doing yoga. Some folks want to target their physical fitness in the way yoga offers, as it’s a low-impact method to improve physical strength and well-being. Conversely, other folks practice specifically for the mental benefits, using the practice as a guide to navigate the mind and find inner peace.
Given the drastic differences in why people do yoga, its popularity stems from various reasons. So, if you ask several people why they practice yoga, you might get several completely different answers. That said, we can offer insight into the popularity of yoga based on its benefits.
Many folks are well aware of the connection between a regular exercise routine and improved moods. An exercise routine releases feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that can improve and enhance your sense of well-being, improving your mood all around.
While these benefits can stem from an array of exercise routines, yoga is one way to induce the release of these feel-good endorphins. Plus, in addition to the benefits found in almost any exercise routine, yoga may offer extra benefits.
Meditation, a staple in many yoga routines, slows activity in the limbic system, the part of the brain handling emotions. So, when activity here slows, your emotional activity diminishes, allowing you to have a more controlled, tempered response during stressful or emotional situations.
On top of that, exercise can elevate levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. All in all, a regular yoga practice can help manage your moods.
Inspires Healthy Changes
Exercise is only one part of the health picture. Although essential, exercise alone won’t launch you toward your fitness and health goals. You’ll need a good diet, plenty of sleep, adequate hydration, and everything else layered into the intricate painting of overall health.
One of the perks of yoga is it can start a chain reaction. For some folks, taking that first step toward their fitness goals by starting a regular yoga practice can be the push it takes to get the ball rolling. Some folks may find they’re more inspired and energized to make healthier choices, from drinking more water to choosing healthier foods and prioritizing sleep.
While it might not be the thing that kick-starts the process for everyone, it can be the perfect way to get started.
Aids in Stress Relief
Many folks practice yoga for its stress-relieving side effects. Various studies demonstrate the connection between a regular yoga routine and lower levels of stress. For example, a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed that 12 sessions of intervention (hatha yoga) substantially reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
The practice of yoga offers an outlet, integrating stress-reducing techniques to calm the body and mind. From breathwork to soothing sequences, yoga encourages relaxation and may lead to less stress overall.
Improves Strength, Flexibility, and Balance
If you’ve never tried yoga before, you might think it is an easy practice. After all, how hard can it be? You might’ve seen photos of forward folds or soothing routines, utterly oblivious to the challenge of yoga. Of course, some sequences are designed for relaxation, but yoga is far from easy.
It can challenge your body to improve, honing your strength, flexibility, and balance throughout each session. Of course, it takes regular practice to improve in these sectors, but if you practice at least a few times weekly, you’ll likely begin to notice the differences.
Supports Heart Health
Heart health is a vital piece of the complete health puzzle. Regular yoga can contribute to the overall health of the heart, as it aids in reducing stress levels and body-wide inflammation. These factors can contribute to strain on the heart, so a routine yoga practice can assist in promoting heart health.
In addition, yoga can help with factors like high blood pressure or obesity, which contribute to heart disease.
Sleep can be ever elusive in a world teeming with stress, late nights, and overwhelming amounts of blue light exposure from TVs, phones, and computers. Around 1 in 3 adults worldwide have insomnia symptoms, and about 10% meet the criteria for insomnia disorder.
While yoga isn’t a cure for insomnia or its symptoms, it can make a significant difference in sleep. It can help manage insomnia symptoms, allowing folks to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and return to sleep more quickly after waking during the night.
Yoga can even be a beneficial addition for folks that don’t experience insomnia or its symptoms. For example, if you find yourself stressed over something, like work or family issues, and are unable to sleep, a nighttime yoga routine may help you wind down and shut off your brain for sleep.