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The mainstreaming of meditation

As ideas change about what makes us healthy, so do perceptions about previously “new age-y” practices like meditation. The definition of health is expanding beyond the physical, to a broader concept of wellness that includes the body, mind, and soul. As a result, relaxation practices like meditation are rapidly gaining popularity.

Meditation is popping up on multiple health and wellness trend lists  like Well+Good and Pinterest. The ancient practice is becoming mainstream with celebrity advocates as diverse as Katy Perry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Oprah Winfrey.

Why now?

  • Needed more than ever: Our world is fast-paced and picking up speed. Our “always on” culture has us constantly connected, crowding our brains and leaving us burnt out. Meditation is a welcome reprieve that allows us to turn off the noise and tune in to ourselves. A mental escape is more relevant now than ever before.
  • Yoga paved the way: Both yoga and meditation have religious or spiritual roots that could be off-putting. However, yoga has been increasing in popularity over the past decade, and now, more would associate it with exercise than spirituality, and nearly everyone in the U.S. would describe it as a secular practice. Meditation and clearing the mind is a common goal in yoga, so it’s only natural that an increased interest in meditation would follow. Meditation is a few years behind yoga, but making a similar leap from strange hippie practice to trendy to the new normal.
  • Backed by science: Meditation has long been recognized for its relaxation and mental health benefits, but the idea that it can also physically heal and prevent illness has recently become a more accepted truth. The connection between the mind and body is not news. Stress can cause illness. What we eat can change our mood. So it’s not far-fetched to say that relaxation can sustain our health. However, the benefits of meditation have been based only on anecdotal reports for hundreds of years. Only recently has scientific research begun to show that meditation has the ability to not only reduce anxiety, but also to improve your immune system, reduce pain, and even slow aging. Researchers have linked meditation to a range of physical, emotional, and mental benefits, contributing to its recognition as a legitimate medical therapy that doctors have begun to recommend.

What’s next?

  • The corporate world is catching on: Companies such as General Mills, Aetna, Google, Ford, and Goldman Sachs have implemented mindfulness programs to boost employee wellbeing, save in employee healthcare costs, and improve productivity. Mindfulness programs have been established by a growing number of companies over the past five or so years. Aetna estimates that its mindfulness program has resulted in an average of 62 additional minutes per week of productivity for each employee, which is worth $3,000 per employee, per year. Additionally, they have saved about $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs. Meditation and mindfulness not only improve employee happiness but also boost the bottom-line.
  • Expect insurance coverage to grow: Today, more insurers are paying for complementary and alternative treatments as a form of medication and a preventative measure. Some insurance companies such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Massachusetts are now paying for all or part of these wellness programs. Expect more insurers to cover meditation as demand increases and more evidence of its benefits and cost-effectiveness is uncovered.
  • From solo to social: Meditation is not just an individual practice. Studios are popping up and becoming the SoulCycles of meditation. MNDFL, a boutique meditation studio, opened in November in Greenwich Village in New York City, and Unplug in Los Angeles is helping meditation stray from its crunchy granola stereotype. Group meditation events are held everywhere from living rooms to city parks, such as The Big Quiet in New York, which has goals of spreading across the country. For some, meditation is becoming the new happy hour.

While it feels on trend, meditation is still in its early stages of acceptance and evidence of its benefits is in its infancy. However, it is worthy of further scientific research as perceptions continue to change. When meditation is combined with pharmaceuticals, procedures, and traditional self-care like nutrition and exercise, we may have a more holistic recipe for total health.

Contributors

Research Manager, Analytics