Have You Taken Up Yoga Lately? So Has Everyone Else

Popularity of complementary health approach growing
Medical staff with senior people at gym

If you’ve started going to yoga classes lately, you’re joining a growing number of Americans who have taken up the practice in recent years.

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A new survey from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on the use of complementary health approaches in the United States says the number of people in the United States practicing yoga has nearly doubled since 2002.

The large, nationally representative survey shows that adults ages 18 to 44 practice yoga the most. In addition, almost as many Americans practice meditation or receive chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation as do practice yoga.

Yoga and chiropractic manipulation are complementary health approaches, which are forms of non-invasive therapies that many people use in addition to conventional Western medicine. Other popular types of complementary therapies include dietary supplements and massage.

The NIH has collected information on complementary and alternative medicine every five years since 2002. Data were released Feb. 10.

Mind-body practices

The percentage of adults who practice yoga has increased substantially in the last 15 years, from 5.1 percent in 2002 to 6.1 percent in 2007 and 9.5 percent in 2012, the survey says. Over the last 15 years, the number of adults practicing yoga doubled to 21 million.

Nearly 2 million children are practicing yoga, too. Just over 3 percent of U.S. children practiced yoga in 2012, compared to 2.3 percent in 2007.

Nearly 18 million adults and almost a million children meditate, the survey says.

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The mind and body approaches most commonly used by adults include yoga, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, meditation and massage therapy, while the mind and body approaches most commonly used by children include chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, yoga, meditation and massage therapy.


The findings show Americans are increasingly interested in non-medical ways to improve their health and well-being or to relieve symptoms from chronic diseases or the side effects of conventional medicine, says integrative medicine expert Daniel Neides, MD. Dr. Neides is Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. He did not take part in the NIH research.

Most people in the United States use complementary health approaches alongside their conventional medical care,  Dr. Neides says.

“Americans are looking for medicine that complements traditional allopathic medicine,” Dr. Neides says.

Mind and body practices such as yoga, chiropractic therapy, massage and  meditation can be among the most effective of complementary health approaches, Dr. Neides says. They can help people to reduce their stress levels and inflammation in the body, which in turn helps the healing process, Dr. Neides says.

The new data is encouraging on this issue, Dr. Neides says.

“Yoga, chiropractic care, acupuncture, reiki, massage — these are all modalities that help to reduce stress within the body and it can only enhance how the immune system functions and how the immune system responds to chronic disease,” Dr. Neides says.

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Dr. Neides expects to see more studies that find the benefits of complementary medicine and show it becoming even more mainstream.

“So many wonderful studies are being done looking at integrative medicine practices and the use of supplements to treat disease,” he says. “Moving forward, this is definitely going to be on the forefront.”


For better or worse, the most commonly used complementary approach was dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals, the survey found. These results are similar to those in 2007 and 2002. Nearly 18 percent of adults and nearly 5 percent of children ages 4 to 17 use these products.

Fish oil was the No. 1 supplement among adults, with 7.8 percent of adults using it in 2012. Adults’ use of fish oil, probiotics and melatonin increased between 2007 and 2012, while use of glucosamine/chondroitin, echinacea, and garlic supplements decreased.

Fish oil also was the supplement most commonly used by children, with 1.1 percent using it in 2012. This is a change from 2007, when echinacea was No. 1. Melatonin was the second supplement most-used by children in 2012. Its use increased substantially from 2007 to 2012.

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