According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Yoga Alliance, yoga in America is expanding at an almost exponential pace, with some 37 million people in the U.S. (nearly 1 in 10 Americans!) practicing it on a regular basis. What is behind yoga’s explosive growth and popularity? Why are both men and women of all ages flocking to this ancient practice?
Traditional yoga, which originated in ancient India more than 2,000 years ago, is a complex, rather esoteric system involving eight different “arms” or divisions. These arms include such disciplines as breathing, postures, concentration, meditation, withdrawal of the senses, and other practices, beginning by focusing on the outer world, then turning the focus inward until liberation or enlightenment, known as samadhi, is achieved.
Modern yoga, especially in the West, is almost exclusively focused on the physical postures known as asanas, as well as breathing and concentration. But even this mostly physically focused yoga is much more than just a set of physical poses, and it differs exponentially from simple stretching or other fitness routines. Yoga connects everything, including the movements of your body and the oscillation of your thoughts, to the rhythm of your breath.
Through this connection, your attention is naturally directed inward. And it’s this inward directedness that helps you to become “friends” with your thoughts. Instead of trying to suppress them or judge them or change them, you simply become aware of them and how they change from moment to moment. Gradually, you become more aware, and over time, as your body becomes more flexible, so does your mind.
Ask anyone who practices yoga on a regular basis why they do it, and you’ll get a variety of reasons from “yoga just makes me feel better” to “I like being more flexible.” But as it turns out, there is a plethora of scientific studies to back up yoga’s impressive effects on physical and mental health.
Here are seven powerful reasons, all backed by science, why you should begin your yoga practice today: