Yoga Journal’s latest Yoga in America survey, conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys, shows that 8.7 percent of Americans are practicing yoga—that’s 20.4 million Americans, up from 15.8 million in 2004. Yoga is no longer considered esoteric or strange by outsiders; we have Martha Stewart Yoga, Jane Fonda Yoga, and JC Penney’s yoga studios. In this survey, even 44 percent of those who don’t currently practice yoga said they aspire to.
As the Huffington Post pointed out, more than a third of those practicing, 38.4 percent, have practiced for less than a year, and 44 percent considered themselves beginners, showing that new yogis are replacing those that drop out. Only 32.7 percent had practiced more than three years, and only 15.6 percent considered themselves experts. Is yoga a fad for most Americans, or is it here to stay?
Americans are now spending more than 10.3 billion dollars a year on classes and equipment. The majority of practitioners are women—82.2 percent—and between the ages of 18 and 44—62.8 percent. The motivations of the yoga participants were also questioned. A total of 78 percent said they were motivated by the desire to improve flexibility. Other factors were stress relief, general health, and fitness.
Interestingly, many of the studies quoted by Yoga U have shown that length of time practicing yoga affects the health outcome for the practitioner. At Ohio state university, where they did blood tests on yogis to quantify chemical markers of inflammation, they found that individual yoga sessions had no discernible change. But long time practitioners of yoga had very definite changes which led researchers to conclude that regular practice of yoga could substantially improve the yogis’ physical response to stress, minimizing the inflammation response. Many other studies have called for longer-term studies in this area.
In another article that Yoga U reported on, researchers at St. Peters University in New Jersey studied exercise adherence (commitment to continue) and self-efficacy (feeling that you can do it) in yoga students. The researchers suggested that yoga would be a more successful exercise treatment for the overweight, the out of condition, or participants with diseases like osteoarthritis because yoga can be taught as a gentle practice where achieving even a partial pose can feel like success.
As the popularity of yoga increases, new yoga students must choose between a plethora of videos, books, teachers, and types of yoga. To what extent will the new yogis’ tendency to continue practice depend upon propinquity—that is, the chance encounter of one teacher, video, or system that suits them? If the long-time practitioners had been interviewed for more details, would we have learned something about them—what system they practice, what motivates them, what inspires them—to inform our own teaching of yoga?