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Meditation, mindfulness gaining popularity in the US

By Zhang Ruinan in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-28 10:41


Reducing stress and raising morale among drivers of the mental practice

Around 35 million adults in the United States practice meditation, rivaling yoga as the most popular type of complementary health practice - the use of holistic or unconventional health and wellness practices.

The proportions of US meditators increased more than threefold from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, last year.

"We do know there's increasing popularity of the use of meditation, but we did not collect any information on what drove the increases," Tainya Clarke, an epidemiologist with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and the lead author of the study, told China Daily.

Mediation in the US may be growing because more people are looking for solutions to anxiety and stress from modern life, Patricia Broderick, a professor at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State University, told China Daily.

John LaRosa, research director at Marketdata Enterprises, an independent market-research publisher, said meditation is becoming more mainstream in the US, with meditation studios in major cities and meditation classes increasingly being offered in the workplace and on college campuses.

He said meditation's popularity is due to people's wish to reduce societal stress levels and to raise worker productivity and morale.

There are about 2,450 meditation studios or centers in the US and at least 1,000 meditation smartphone apps now on the market, including Headspace, according to a report by Marketdata Enterprises.

The value of the meditation market in the US increased to an estimated $1.21 billion in 2017 from $959 million in 2015, and will reach an estimated $2.08 billion by 2022, according to Marketdata.

While more US people are turning to practicing meditation, at the same time "the uptake of mindfulness as a serious scientific endeavor has also been at the forefront of guiding recent public interest", David Black, founding director of American Mindfulness Research Association, told China Daily.

Black said the scientific method and intervention research has helped us to understand the various ways in which training in mindfulness is useful to human wellness and performance, and so the public has responded to this information with great interest as it is directly beneficial to our daily lives.

Mindfulness, a mental practice that emerged from 2,500-year-old Buddhist teachings, involves focusing attention on the present moment for a sustained period of time, through meditation or with movement. But recent scientific studies have shown the practice can reduce pressure and train the brain.

No side effects

A 2014 meta-analysis by Johns Hopkins researchers for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that meditation and, in particular, mindfulness can have a role in treating depression, anxiety, and pain in adults - as much as medications but with no side effects. Meditation can also, to a lesser degree, reduce the toll of psychological distress, the review found.

There is also some evidence that meditation can help prevent cardiovascular disease, although the American Heart Association noted in a 2017 statement that "the overall quality and, in some cases, quantity of study data is modest".

"Over the past 20 years, meditation and mindfulness-based programs have become increasingly important to Westerners. Doctors are embracing meditation not because they think it's hip or cool but because scientific studies are beginning to show that it works, particularly for stress-related conditions," LaRosa said.

"The central benefit of mindfulness training is to gain an understanding of how our suffering, from various conditions and ailments, can be reduced by working with the psychological components that surround those ailments," Black, who is also a professor of preventive medicine at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California said.

Another interesting finding from the recent CDC's study is that not just adults are practicing meditation. Over the same five-year period, the proportion of US children who have tried some form of meditation jumped from 0.6 percent to 5.4 percent.

"And we've seen a growing popularity of meditation in schools for kids of all ages, and even some day cares are using it," Clarke added.

"I expect the benefits for children (who use meditation) would be similar but relevant in a different context," Black said.

However, as more people see meditation as a business opportunity, some companies are marketing it as a cure for all diseases and one solution for every problem. Experts say this might be misleading and confusing.

"Perhaps the main concern is that people will confuse its popularity with a perception that the practice is easy or convenient.

"The practice can be very challenging for some and requires time and commitment, plus feedback from a qualified teacher. Mindfulness is a specific way of being and engaging with the world, and if over-generalized and diluted, might not meet certain individuals' expectations of benefit," Black said.

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