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WHY HAS YOGA
BECOME SO POPULAR?

Did you know that over 15 million people practiced yoga in 2003, according to a landmark study by Yoga Journal magazine? And the numbers are expected to increase dramatically in subsequent years. Your own experiences probably confirm this study — maybe you practice yoga or know someone who does … Or just take a walk along any busy main street — you’re bound to see someone carrying a yoga mat. In fact you can’t even open a magazine or newspaper without finding an article about yoga.

So how does a 5,000-year-old spiritual practice become today’s hottest mind/body trend? The media has also helped spread the message of yoga and the fact the celebrities like Madonna and Sting practice yoga doesn’t hurt either!

Yoga’s rejuvenating effects

Perhaps the best way to understand yoga’s popularity is to go right to the people who practice it. If you ask them why the practice, some of the more common replies you might hear are flexibility, increased energy, improved focus, reduction of the symptoms associated with stress and an overall good feeling. The fact is that yoga can have a rejuvenating effect on all systems of the body including the circulatory, glandular system, digestive, nervous, musculoskeletal, reproductive and respiratory systems.

According to the U.S. Department on Aging, there are four components to good physical health: strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic capacity. It is interesting to note that yoga can help you accomplish all these things, and no fancy piece of equipment is needed other than your own body and a yoga mat.

Over the last 100 years, our lives have become very fast paced: cell phones, computers, internet, television. This, along with a strong work ethic, often results in people out of balance – people experiencing a lot of stress. Consequently, there is a strong need to de-stress, to quiet our minds and rejuvenate our bodies. And yoga helps achieve this, helping us return to a state of balance and health.

Yoga brings us into the moment. It is very difficult to practice and be thinking about what happened at work today or the party tomorrow night. Becoming present in itself is a great release from stress. At its best, yoga meets the student where they are, so it is adjusted to the student’s level and capacity. That doesn’t mean it is particularly easy or particularly challenging – it can be either or both on any given day.

Yoga’s therapeutic effects

Then there is the therapeutic component. Yoga can be used successfully with conditions such as insomnia, back problems, digestion problems, asthma, improving circulation, anxiety and weight loss — just to name a few.

Basically yoga is non-competitive. It is not about winning or losing — you can go at your own rate. Of course people still compete with themselves, though, and compare their posture to others in class.

In addition, many of us are yearning for something more. Many of us have shied away from organized religion yet seek a spiritual practice that connects us to ourselves as well as something larger – a spiritual practice that is non-dogmatic, without many rules. While most of the yoga practiced in health clubs focuses on primarily the physical aspects of yoga, the philosophical side also seeps in.

And for those that want to learn more about the philosophy of yoga, information and classes are readily available to them. At its simplest level, yoga quiets the mind and opens the body – setting the stage for withdrawing deeper inside oneself – to a place of peace, a place of balance, a place of health. It is here where the divine within us can be more easily discovered.

A style that’s right for you

There are many different styles of yoga, and it never needs to be boring. It can be slow and gentle, it can challenge your strength, it can be aerobic or vigorous or it can be very introspective. There is as style to match most personalities. There is yoga for seniors, pre-natal yoga, postnatal yoga, power yoga, gentle yoga, etc. There are classes that focus on back care, yoga done in groups and yoga done one on one, privately with an instructor.

The yogic scriptures say there are some 84,000 postures and variations. The field of yoga is huge and there is always, always something new to learn.

Written by: Howard VanEs. Howard VanEs, M.A., has been studying and practicing yoga for over 13 years and is a certified yoga teacher teaching in the East Bay area of San Francisco. He is author of "Beginning Yoga: A Practice Manual" and co-creator of the audio CD "Shavasana/Deep Relaxation." He is also a former psychotherapist.

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