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Exercise & Fitness
New survey reveals the rapid rise of yoga — and why some people still haven’t tried it
- By Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor
About the Author
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
For me Yoga is like my daily breakfast with out which I become weak and lethargic. I have been practising Yoga since I was sixteen by myself. I didn’t much think of my health benefits are fitness but other than to impress my cousins with all postures. My actual realization came since the day I joined “Art Of Living” which has helped me to be
healthier, fit and could avoid a lot regular ailments. Trust me I haven’t
suffered any ailments till date and am becoming stronger in health.Am 56 and am in my best of health physically and happy mentally.Finally I would say Yoga is a panacea for every one to be healthy.
Those who look at strength training may also think it is only for the young.
We can all benefit from exercise at any age. We can start from whatever health situation we are in to improve our health.
Yoga teacher in Milwaukee
I practice yoga almost everyday and believe it has great benefits in all aspects of life, physically, spiritually and emotionally. I have noticed that there are a lot of articles out there saying Yoga can cause harm to the body and injury which I think is another factor why people don’t practice.
If one does research on the term using an easily accessible search engine there are negative reviews with the positive and I can see why some people might rule it out as an activity because of this. The key is listening to your body, don’t push too hard and don’t compete because every Body is different! If you have an injury let your instructor know they can inform you on alternatives.
Hi there, the quote” the number of Americans doing yoga has grown by over 50% in the last four years to over 36 million as of 2016, up from 20.4 million in 2012″ does not really add up, over 50% would mean at least 40.8 million people are practicing, not 36 million? Thanks for the article though!
50% of 20.4 million is 10.2 million. Add those together and you get 30.6 million. If the number of people jumped to 40.8, that would be a 100% increase. 🙂
As a yoga teacher, I find that many people have a difficulty showing up. There are so many distractions and excuses to not show up. However, to be in a group of yogis who do show up and are present for themselves –that is powerful. I encourage everyone to just show up –whether you are able to do the practice or not. The power is in the intention to be present and to move mindfully.
Straightforward question to the enlightened YOGA instructors . How does HOT YOGA and NUDE YOGA contribute to the beginner yogis community ?
Hot yoga and nude yoga are simply options. While I practice neither, if others practice in these styles, so be it. There are so many “styles” of yoga available. As an instructor, I suggest anyone wanting to explore the practice of yoga start in a beginners class, usually a series of 3-6 classes where one learns breathing, movement, and how to safely get in and out of basic poses. The instructor can also explain the different forms of yoga. When people ask me about starting a practice, I always say, if you can breathe, you can do yoga.
I have practiced yoga for 25 years. It has had and continues to have an enormous positive influence in my life. Yoga develops our awareness, not only of the body, but every day actions. Kindness and acceptance are qualities I think about daily, toward myself as well as others. Most people begin yoga for the physical benefits, but over time, the mental calmness that occurs from connecting breath with thoughtful movement is truly amazing. It takes time, patience and dedication. Master Yogi B.K.S. Iyengar said it best – to know the benefits of yoga it must be experienced.
People in the USA need something- to feel wholesome, spiritually connected, at peace. It is not a given and judging by the numbers of people on anti anxiety/antidepressant meds, we are in an epidemic or unhappiness. This plays out in many ways- the inability to care for onesself. A main reason for obesity in our society is imbalance- food becomes social/emotional. Activity? is draining and there is no time for it. SUre many practice yoga and it can be truly transformative, but yoga forces one to have a relationship with your own body. It is the physical manifestation of being alive, no? SO we need to have a healthy relationship with our bodies to fully activate self care. This is the problem and yoga can profoundly change this dynamic- but one has to be willing to experience the discomfort- both physical and emotional that goes with this process
As a yoga instructor I think it’s a good point you make that one has to be willing to put up with the physical challenges that are involved in yoga. My advice to all be Ginners is just to come and just do what you can with some consistency. And over time you will experience miraculous results. I started yoga in my middle 50s, and now I’m coming up on my middle 60s. My flexibility is much better than even when I was in my 40s lifting weights and all that other stuff in the gym
Your blog is very useful. I greatly appreciate your balanced approach. Mixing yoga with some sort of religious practice is due to misunderstanding.
It seems to me that yoga is becoming more popular in USA than in India. Thank you very much for the essay on yoga and triggering a serious discussion on the topic
Ms. Wei, thank you so, so much for this piece. As we were filming a class this morning in our studio, I read everything following “Why some people aren’t jumping on the bandwagon — and what the yoga community can do about it,” to my business partners here at Yoga for Men (YogaforMen.com), and one of them chimed in, “That sounds like we wrote that!” It’s why we do what we do. We’re launching our online classes in the next day or two as a matter of fact, and will have everything from Therapeutic and Beginner Level Classes to Advanced Flows and Guided Meditations. We’re also working on a project with the University of South Florida to study the effects of our online classes with vets and PTSD as well. So, yes, thank you. It’s about making the practice available and accessible to everyone, regardless of age, mobility, etc.
Yoga is one of d best gifts by God given to humanity except for these hate industrialists preaching fake religions of conversions yet calling for equality. Christian Church and Islamists are both indulging in hate wars in d name of religions. Their hate against Yoga by linking it with Hinduism makes them feel happy that it shall help them win their losing battle against Hindus for converting them. Entire game of hate by Church n Mosque lie in their eternal hatred against others. Yoga has nothing to do with Hinduism as much as Science has to do with Christianity or West. But hate v must as helps their battle of conversions, as they think.
Yoga means union – union with the self.
Yoga does not divide – yoga is inclusive.
As Yogi Bhajan ones said: “If you don’t see God in all – you don’t see God at all!”
It always surprises me that religions are dividing, separating and excluding others – that they come from that their God is the only right God – what does that have to do with Godliness?
In my opinion – peace is only possible when we have the grace to bow to each others truth – and honor all the different paths that lead to union.
I’m sure that Yoga has many benefits but at its core it is Eastern mysticism and it comes from the pit of hell. If you consider yourself a Christian you have no business participating in Yoga, you are just inviting demons into your life.
I am astounded by this comment!
I have been practising Yoga for over 30 years and am absolutely sure that it has kept me healthier and in a good state of mental sanity over the years and totally disagree with this statement and feel that it is very bias and very out of date in the 21st Century.
Very say indictiment on your view of God’s word. I will pray for your enlightenment.
How so? Think of the Divine Mercy image and offer up the exercise to God. I have been taking yoga at our gym and there is no devil worship. Each exercise is explained on how to get into the position and we talk about which muscles are being used. We also talk about proper posture and practice those poses. How is it from the pit of hell?
OOF, need u exorcising 4 ur haze n hate. Christian Church is fast loosing her grip on their followers especially the youngsters going “I’m not religious but spiritual”. Hence the hate of Church for Yoga. Both Christianity as well as Islamists have gut full of hate that is driving them nuts n crazy. Yoga helps n getting rid of such negative traits.
Hate likes of you is d responsible cause 4 not trying it. Church is worried for her further fall in footfalls on Sunday Mass, which has also led to fall in Church’s contribution from public. Catholic church is most hated in US for their crimes of abuses against children. This hate is directed to divert the attention of Americans from their crimes. Hope they don’t succeed.
Your article on yoga science is well written.
Just because it originated from a country where a particular faith which even derives its name from the land is being practiced but it is one of the most ancient religion one may call it but is an amalgamation of different thoughts and philosophies over thousands of years from different regions of the world and the beauty of it is it still is flexible ,accommodative,and assimilative and evolving as man kind progresses unlike the rigidity followed by other faiths which are nothing but a diet prescribed by the doctors of those religions assuming that every one of their followers are diseased.
That is the basic problem today when they want to herd their lot with blinded eyes to the good ness of other thoughts and way of life.
In fact the Hinduism is a way of life and it does not teach hatred of others or other religions and considers the world as one large family and wants every one to wish for the wellbeing of others and for the entire universe.
Let the mankind realise the truth and let peace prevail and mother nature be saved from destruction.
I am glad to see this post.
There seems to be a prevalent myth that Yoga is not real exercise
or the rise of a fad. I have been practicing yoga for over 30 years and have done several different styles of yoga to grow into the style that suits where I am now. Yoga, is truly amazing!
The benefits available to anyone who does it , sticks with it, respects their body, modifies when they need to; go far beyond mere movement and exercise.
Interesting that Harvard is masquerading a theistic movement by promoting its body mind components. However, one can participate without the other.
That’s great for those who have had success, but for me and others, inattentive instructors have resulted in back injuries that took weeks to heal. I’m also uncomfortable with physical movement and exercise that has a fundamental connection to spiritual or religious frameworks. Pilates and other exercise routines have incorporated many of the same moves, without the baggage.
Nicks’s your comment about injury due to inattentive instructors is very terrible to hear. Yoga is an amazing tool to use to achieve many benefits and feel good. Injury is coming from not understanding how to feel your body and move into a pose. The instructor need to know how to get you to understand that, your job is to learn to listen to your body signals. Like any tool, you have to know how to use yoga through your body signals and back off before it feels wrong. It’s a partnership
Although yoga’s beginning are based on a Hindu religious experience, the classes I have attended at two different gyms have not taught any spiritual or religious connections. The moves are taught to help her body become more flexible and learn balance, which is definitely needed as we age to help prevent falls. I’m 63 years old and started yoga 12 years ago. Since I was 21, I have dealt with ongoing lower back issues. As long as I regularly practice yoga moves, I have zero problems with my back, and my overall body feels incredibly better.
I’m lucky to have found a wonderful yoga teacher about 15 years ago. I’m in my late sixties (as is my teacher) and have been overweight all my life and a Type 2 diabetic for over 20 years (non-insulin dependent). I also have 2 replaced knees, a clavicle that was removed (with a tumor) about 30 years ago, and fairly recent surgeries for trigger fingers on both hands. I go to classes twice a week (90 minutes each) and really find that my yoga practice improves both my physical and mental well being. I know what I can’t do (and what to do instead), and the class is wonderful–lots of people like me who feel comfortable being in the class, no matter what their limitations!
Finding the right teacher is critical, in my mind, and I’d urge beginners to look around to find the right class and the right teacher.
Thank you for sharing this– you bring up an excellent point re: finding the right teacher and class. And great to hear that your teacher has allowed your practice to flourish.
Yoga is by FAR NOT the best excercise for the human body! It is an expressionism of “yoking” your spirit to a Hindu deity!
Hence the true saying ” there is no Hinduism without Yoga, and no Yoga without Hinduism” is absolutely true.
Christians should NEVER buy into the fallacy that Yoga is congruous to their faith. Just the opposite is true!
“Christian Yoga” is tantamount to claiming ” Christian Witchcraft”
Stay away from Yoga and begin walking and praying and respecting your body by eating good food!
It saddens me to hear of Christians who are afraid of yoga. I along with several of my Christian friends practice yoga. Consider opening your heart and mind to a wonderful experience that can raise your consciousness and deepen your Christian experience. If you are open to a more loving view of Christianity, check out Richard Rohr–he has wonderful daily lessons.
I don’t where you get your facts or why you feel this way. I am neither a warlock or a practicing Hindu. I am a staunch christian and enjoy the many benefits of yoga, not the least of which is the positive attitude espoused and motivation to work with the community to get stronger. From a christian perspective, the Lord teaches us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (From Exodus to Revelations); yet there is no guidance on loving thyself Yoga teaches you to love yourself so that you may love your neighbor. Both my doctor and my priest agree with me and my views.
I have been doing yoga for years and the practice has only enhanced my appreciation for my Cristian life.With a settled mind and a calm body you are better able to absorb deeper subilities of Cristianity and the world around you.
Hopefully Agusta is merely toying with us, no one could possibly be that small minded. Perhaps Agusta just wants to start the conversation, let’s hope so. The last sentence though is very true, walk more, pray more, and eat good food. Nothing wrong with that. Please Agusta just breathe.
A sad indictment on your view of others’ interpretaion of God’s Word. I will pray for your enlightenment.
Augusta! Yoga and Hinduism and Sanskrit are all independent concepts. Sanskrit is a language not a religion; Yoga is a set of exercises not a religion. Hinduism is the only religion in the World that has zero conversion component. You do not become a Hindu by practicing Yoga.
Nobody knows how to become a Hindu or UN-become a Hindu.
BTW I was born a Hindu. I practice it with no fuss. I want to practice Yoga but you need a very good instructor.
Tell me, “What’s the Christian faith exactly”? It indulges in crap of hate against all others instead of love that only lives on lip service for fooling people and deceiving them in getting in the jail of both Christianity as well as Islamism. Both promote hate against “other” and call them inferior for conversions. This perspective must end and change. As long as the agendas of religious hate n conversions thrive, trust me, there shall never be peace on this planet. How can there peace be by calling others inferior? Abraham Lincoln had said, “I can’t be a Master, as I can’t be a Slave”!!! Who wants to be a slave? None I suppose!!!
Happily my local YMCA embraces yoga, diversity, and inclusiveness. It’s successful and it’s membership continues to grow.
I find it interesting Christians find practicing yoga so threatening. Beyond building strength and flexibility in both mind and body, yoga offers a spirit of inclusiveness, compassion for self and others, gratefulness, and overall optimism and joy! How can those wonderful attributes do anything but help one’s spiritual life blossom?
As some one who practices/preaches Yoga, your article is yet another validation. What I’m amazed at is: As a Physician Dr. Wei, you take the time and effort to respond and clarify. And I do not see any tone of patronizing there. This attribute of being humble to convey the message ‘In Yoga you do compete with any one; instead you compete within’ – A Mantra I Learn all the time. Thank you on behalf the millions of us – the devout Yoga Practitioners! Namaste’
Gomes Barathi Ganapathi
Thank you for sharing that wonderful mantra with us! I am reminded daily that we have so much to continue to learn always. I am grateful to the wonderful yoga teachers along the way, for the opportunity to share what I have been taught– and the opportunity to hear and learn from all of you through your comments!
It is difficult to find yoga for people with obesity.
And for people with joint stiffness/problems.
Adaptations are available, and the room temp. may need to be lower.
Not sure why yoga classes are exclusive and yet they are from a tradition that is so open and inclusive.
Jay, look for an Iyengar Yoga teacher. Iyengar Yoga teachers do not heat the room, are trained to work with bodies of all sizes and shapes and are well qualified to help you find the joys of the practice in what ever body you bring to the mat. No judgement.
Yoga’s actual aim is to control and calm a restless mind and help it attain equanimity. The postures were meant to prepare the practitioner for meditation. Ultimately yoga seeks to unite individual consciousness with supreme consciousness. if you leave this part out, you’re missing the mark.
As always thanks for providing such well-sourced information about health. This is my favorite newsletter and blog for health.
I find Pilates much more beneficial and more enjoyable!?
Pretty well an illogical article insofar as it conflates cause with effect. If 75% are already into sport with all that that entails, and you add that those who are not into sport because of age limits, then all you have is that yoga adds a blend of mysticism to the mix.
I think it is not very responsible to leave out the fact that injury is a real concern across the country in regard to yoga. Some injuries have been life threatening. Some of these injuries can happen to those taking yoga with very well qualified individuals. Also, yoga teachers have been know to suffer ongoing issues do to injuries they have suffered in practicing yoga. This is something that those that are interesting in taking up yoga should at least read about. It is all online. Thank you.
Thank you for bringing this up– we agree that yoga safety is a really important topic and have a chapter dedicated to this in our upcoming Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga book coming out Spring 2017. It’s really important to check with your doctor first before starting yoga and let your yoga teacher know as well if you have any medical conditions or prior injuries. Certain medical conditions may make some poses contraindicated, such as inversions like headstand with glaucoma. Higher risk poses for injury include lotus pose, shoulderstand, plow, and advanced inversions like headstand. Safety and self-compassion during yoga is of utmost importance–nothing should be painful– listening to your body to do the right thing for your individual needs and not push yourself past what is good for you are essential elements of the practice.
It is absolutely important to choose a yoga teacher who is experienced and teaches a style of yoga that is appropriate to your age and health. Always try out a teacher before you commit to a series of classes … if you are not comfortable, do not continue to go to that person!
I think this is one point that must be included if Dr. Wei were to follow up with another article – being careful about choosing the right yoga instructor. The reality is that there are many amazing yoga teachers, and also atrocious yoga teachers (they don’t mean harm but they are completely under educated anatomically despite 200, 300 training hours). It’s well and good to sing the virtues of yoga but to someone who’s brand new and know nuttin’ about ahimsa and satya and samskara and asana and pranayama – heck, don’t even know how to get from downward to upward dog, it’s a very detrimental point. I know this as someone who’s naturally flexible and pushed too hard by my first yoga instructor to display flexibility – believe me, it ended up being a negative outcome even if I was able to do it.
It can be difficult for a person brand new to yoga to differentiate between a knowledgeable and a clueless/aggressive/uninterested instructor so the rule of thumb is first to listen to your body and second take all instructions from the instructors as suggestions only.
Some guidelines, if I may:
– If that instructor balks or is insensitive to you in any way (let’s say you stop mid class because you feel pain or out of breath), you need not go back to that instructor.
– If an instructor fails to offer “child’s pose” (it is a resting pose) during class and assures that there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking that pose at any time, especially when seeing you’re struggling, do not go back to him/her.
– If he/she does not offer modifications for poses you cannot do, either he/she isn’t knowledgeable enough or doesn’t care. Either way, he/she simply isn’t the right instructor for you.
– If he/she adjusts you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or *gasp* painful, absolutely do not go back.
At the same time, pay attention of the level of class you’re attending. Don’t attend intermediate or advanced classes when you’re brand new then complain that the class is too hard or too fast. Also, it doesn’t hurt to let the instructor know before hand that you’re brand new or if you have injuries.
It’s your body, you’re responsible for it. Instructor is there to help. It’s a partnership, as another commenter rightly said.
Yoga indeed is wonderful!
It offers huge benefits for mental health
I’ve also found out that Thai Chi is very healthy also. One nice thing about it is that anyone can practice it: young or old, strong or weak – and you can do it anywhere.
Please develope a yoga booklet as your other ones are so well done
Thanks for your comment! Yes, we are excited to be working on the Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga, which should be out ~ Spring 2017, and hope you will find it useful.
Yoga, yes! But isn’t it indisputable that more intensive aerobics, such as walking 45-minutes 3 times per week (and stronger aerobic stuff) provide more conditioning/strengthening to heart and all other muscles, at least per unit of time invested?
David, I can’t speak to the science, but from personal experience, yoga can be very aerobic!
In my view a combination rounds off your fitness routine. While a brisk walking session is good for the cardio vascular system, yoga is beneficial for the strength and flexibility of your body. I have done two to three different types of sports for several years by now. Pilates, Nordic Walking as well as sessions on an ergometer in turns.
What a great question– cardiovascular benefits likely vary based on the style of yoga practice, which can range from high intensity Bikram and power vinyasa yoga to slower, more supported restorative yoga, to even seated meditation and yoga breathing exercises (which is still yoga, in my opinion). In terms of research studies, Bikram has been shown to be equivalent to light-to-moderate intensity exercise. Hatha yoga, a general term for pose-based yoga in the U.S. as well as a gentler/slower style of yoga, was found to be equivalent to walking on a treadmill at 3.2 kph (about 2 miles per hour).
In terms of whether yoga can prevent heart disease effectively just on its own, the jury is still out on that one because there aren’t enough studies yet to say definitively– here we have a 2014 and 2015 review of studies.
Also, what we do know is that yoga offers benefits different from traditional aerobic exercise, such as awareness, focus, mind-body connection, and an activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response) which can reduce stress overall, which promotes both physical and mental health.
Great Read! Thank you, Annie Appleby, Founder and CEO of YogaForce #SimpleAlignment
Thank you for sharing the wisdom!
Thanks for connecting!
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