How Yoga Is Spreading In The U.S.
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It’s pretty accurate to say yoga has taken the country by storm. And the popularity of the practice is visible in lots of ways: in the sheer number of yoga studios in the U.S., in the amount of yoga gear that’s for sale at all kinds of retailers and even in the excited conversations about yoga and meditation practices you can overhear in public places, at least in big cities. But even more, it’s evident in people’s reasons for doing yoga. A new survey by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal (carried out by Ipsos Public Affairs), queried 2,000 people in the general population and 1,700 more yoga practitioners. The study set out to quantify the spread of yoga across the U.S. But it also looks at who’s practicing yoga these days and the motivations people have for practicing. And interestingly, all of these elements have changed over the last few years, and will very likely to continue to evolve as well.
Courtesy YogaAlliance.com/Ipsos Public Affairs
The most obvious evolution has been in the sheer number of people who are practicing it: according to the study, yoga is being practiced by some 37 million people in the U.S. This is up from 20 million three years ago, which means yoga has nearly doubled in just a few years. It also means about one out of ten people is practicing it, which is pretty impressive: Twenty years ago, not many would have thought it would be this big this quickly.
And matching this growth is the finding that almost three-quarters of people have been practicing for less than five years, which underlines the relative newness of the interest. Not surprisingly, yoga is practiced much more frequently on the two coasts and somewhat less frequently in the middle of the country. But it’s growing, on average, in all parts.
Interestingly, the sex differences are dissipating a bit over time, too. Where a few years ago, women outnumbered men four to- one, the new study finds that 72% of practitioners are women and 28% are men.
About 34% of those polled said they’d practice yoga in the next six months, but this includes those who are already practicing. So a lot of people who aren’t currently practicing think they will, presumably because they’re aware of the benefits. Which means a general awareness of yoga, perhaps through word of mouth, the media and the scientific studies on its benefits, is getting around.
People try yoga for all different reasons, though those reasons are also evolving. In the new study, 61% said flexibility was what drew them in; for 56% it was stress relief; for 49% it’s general fitness; for another 49%, overall health was the goal; and for 44% physical fitness.
About 90% of people are aware of the presence of yoga now, vs. 75% three years ago. And 75% of Americans believe it’s good for them. Most practitioners–over 80%–are aware of the history and philosophy behind yoga, namely that it started out as set of mental practices, rather than a physical one, and a guiding set of ethical principles.
Among current practitioners, 86% said that they experienced a strong sense of mental clarity, and 90% said they somewhat or strongly agreed that yoga is a form of meditation. Which is a good thing, since meditation was originally a huge part of yoga.
And among people who didn’t currently practice but said they were likely to start, some of the reasons for the budding interest were basic enjoyment, the fact that yoga is said to be “good” for a person, that it’s a stress reliever, that it helps performance in sports or exercise, and that it’s a form of meditation.
Courtesy YogaAlliance.com/Ipsos Public Affairs
And then there’s the business side of things. The new survey found that Americans spent $16 billion on classes, gear and accessories, which is up from $10 billion three years ago. Breaking this down, practitioners spent $5.8 billion on yoga classes and $4.6 billion on yoga clothes–these amounts are both more than double what they were just a few years ago. And practitioners spent $3.6 billion on yoga mats and other items.
The Future of Yoga
Finally, yoga seems to be increasingly appealing to young people too. In the new study, about 37% of the practitioners’ kids under the age of 18 also practiced. And as a general trend, beyond the scope of this study, schools are offering yoga more often as part of their curricula, since it helps kids get get calm and learn to center themselves while at school. All kids can benefit from yoga, but for some children, who have very difficult or traumatic lives outside of school, yoga can bring particular benefits. And as we understand more and more about how yoga affects the bodies and brains of kids and adults, it will likely be an even more widespread phenomenon than it already is. Maybe it will even be a regular part of life, and more a rule than an exception. It already seems to be headed this way.