Yoga is a hugely popular choice of exercise for men and women of all ages. In the U.S. alone, the number of yoga participants increased by 50% between 2012 and 2016. And that trend looks to continue.
So why is yoga so popular? And why should you take up yoga instead of any other form of exercise such as going to the gym?
Firstly, what is yoga?
Yoga consists of a series of held poses. When combined with focused breathing, these poses seek to unite the mind and body as you increase your strength and flexibility.
There are many different forms of yoga. Broadly speaking, there are two main types of yoga practised in the west: Hatha and Vinyasa:
- Hatha yoga describes the yoga poses used in most forms of yoga. You practice the poses in isolation with a rest in between each pose. Therefore, Hatha-based yoga is a good choice for yoga newbies.
- Vinyasa or flow yoga is where these poses are smoothly linked together. Ashtanga is a type of vinyasa yoga where the flow of poses follows a set sequence. Otherwise, most vinyasa teachers will arrange the poses at their discretion.
Different forms of yoga will include varying amounts of spirituality. But all forms of yoga pursue this union between mind, body and spirit.
How yoga transforms physical health
There are numerous physical health benefits of practising yoga with many scientific studies to back up the claims:
- Increased strength, particularly in the upper body.
- Studies have shown improved flexibility and balance for individuals across a wide range of ages.
- The structured breathing that is part of yoga has also been shown to expand lung capacity which is of particular benefit to people with lung disease, asthma or heart disease.
There have also been links between yoga and reducing chronic pain, improving sleep quality and lowering blood pressure.
But yoga isn’t unique in its ability to improve someone’s health. All forms of exercise offer physical health benefits. And any kind of exercise is also good for stress or anxiety or coping with mental health issues.
However, going to the gym is an activity where the focus is purely on improving physical health. Any non-physical health benefits are a bonus.
This is where yoga is different. Perhaps it is more accurate to describe yoga as type a meditation that improves your mental state with the physical benefits that are the bonus.
Yoga is self-love
The deliberate, slow movements of yoga, combined with the held poses and focused breathing allow your mind to take centre-stage, creating an opportunity for introspection. As you look inwards, you will become more aware of your body as it moves through the poses and this will often lead to a kinder and healthier relationship with your body.
You will clear your head of clutter and stresses. And, as your practice improves, perhaps dig a little deeper into why some things bug you or what is truly important to you.
Other mental or cognitive benefits you might experience include:
- Improved concentration
- Confident and calmer disposition
- Personal acceptance
- Reduction in stress and help to combat anxiety and depression
Plus, yoga can also lead to healthier eating habits by being more mindful or aware of how you treat your body.
Yoga is the ancient fix for a modern life
So maybe the reason why yoga is growing in popularity is that it offers a real solution to the growing stresses of modern life. Work-life can be competitive and it’s hard to escape social pressures to look or eat a certain way. Many people are choosing yoga in order to maintain their overall wellness. Yoga retreats are increasingly popular choices as short breaks as they offer a sanctuary from modern life without the judgement associated with spas or some weight-obsessed health farms.
So, why choose yoga? Yoga, because of its holistic approach to health, has the potential to transform more aspects of your life than regular exercise alone.