According to a survey conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, the number of people doing yoga in America has gone up 50 percent between 2012 and 2016. 36.7 million people do yoga regularly, and 74 percent of these people have been practicing for less than five years. Although it’s an ancient Eastern practice that has been around way before the U.S. even existed, yoga has become wildly popular in the last few years. You’ve probably done yoga yourself at some point, even if you just tried it once on a Saturday morning and never really went back for more.
Because it’s risen so rapidly in popularity, there has been a lot of buzz about yoga. Is it actually that good for you? Does it truly reduce stress and increase flexibility? Or is this just another fitness trend that’s bound to die out soon enough? We’ll get into all that in more detail below, but the short answer is: Yes, yoga is worth doing, and it has the potential to improve your overall health if you let it. Don’t be fooled by all the yoga Instagram accounts. There’s much more to yoga than stretching in front of a camera and looking pretty. We think this is the year to give it a shot. Besides, you may as well put all those cute yoga pants to good use.
1. Science has proven time and time again that yoga really is good for you.
The many benefits of yoga — where do we even begin? For starters, you can strengthen your heart by doing yoga. A study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology shows that regularly practicing yoga can decrease your risk for heart disease. It can even help you level out your blood pressure and lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol in your body. Furthermore, yoga prevents injury, increases flexibility and strength, and even strengthens your self-confidence and helps you love your body more.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete, a newbie, or a devoted gym rat, there’s always something useful to gain from the practice.
2. Yoga is more diverse than ever (but we still have a long way to go).
We’ve recently seen a surge of yogis online who are body-positive activists and strong leaders. For example, Jessamyn Stanley is a self-proclaimed fat femme who is as beautiful as she is hilarious and inspiring. Another amazing body positive yogi to check out is Valerie Sagun. These women make yoga more accessible and relevant than ever. We used to only see thin, white women at the forefront of yoga, so we’re happy to see superstars like Jessamyn and Valerie take center stage.
Granted, we still need to see many more people like them on the cover of yoga magazines. But the slowly growing diversity we’re seeing in the yoga world means that there’s probably a teacher out there who you identify with, so it won’t feel like such a foreign practice anymore.
3. 2016 was chaotic — and you need some stress relief.
Science doesn’t lie. Yoga has a positive, calming impact on your nervous system. It helps you chill out, regulates your moods, and decreases depressive and anxious symptoms. With everything that’s been going on in our world, peace and quiet is exactly what your mind needs right now.
The physical aspects of yoga — stretching and strengthening — are only the beginning. If you keep up a regular practice, you’ll find that you’re a bit more Zen than you were before. You might even be inspired to start meditating on your own.
4. You’ll probably be inspired to give back to your community.
Get a load of this: Yogis are 50 percent more likely to volunteer within their local community than people who don’t do yoga. A large part of the ancient yoga practice is about being aware of the world around you and evoking change in the places that need a little bit of love. You might even find that the yoga studio in your neighborhood offers opportunities to get involved with non-profit organizations that could use your time, energy, and donations.
5. There are so many different kinds of yoga now that you’re bound to find one (or a few) you’ll like.
Don’t trick yourself into thinking that there’s only one kind of yoga, and that’s that. There are so many different styles out there that there’s almost a guarantee you’ll find one that suits you and your needs. Maybe you’ll like Yin yoga, which goes at a slower pace and is focused on deep releases. Perhaps you’ll be into the fast-paced Vinyasa flow, the challenging hot yoga, or the collaborative Acro yoga. Play around, experiment, and stick to whatever makes you feel the best.
This article originally appeared on Hellogiggles.com.