The two related but distinct practices of yoga and meditation are becoming a lot less alternative and a lot more mainstream. According to two new studies from the CDC, both practices have risen in “prevalence” from the year 2012 to 2017. Interestingly, kids were the group whose practices rose the most strongly, and this was particularly true for meditation.
The CDC used National Health Interview Survey interviews from 2012 and 2017, in which people around the country were queried about their use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractic in the past 12 months. The researchers analyzed changes in use of the practices, breaking it down by age, gender, and race.
Yoga was defined as a “combination of breathing exercises, meditation, and physical postures, of Hindu origin, used to achieve a state of relaxation and balance of mind, body, and spirit.”
Meditation included everything from mantra and transcendental meditation to mindfulness meditation (vipassana, Zen Buddhist meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) to “spiritual meditation,” which included prayer and contemplative meditation.
Not surprisingly, yoga maintained its popularity among adults, and it rose a bit: in 2012, less than 10% of U.S. adults reported practicing yoga, whereas in 2017, over 14% did. But for meditation, the rise jump was larger, at over threefold, from 4% to 14% over the same years.
The use of meditation increased even more significantly for children—from 0.6% practicing in 2012 to 5.4% in 2017. But yoga rose, too, for kids, from 3% in 2012 to over 8% in 2017. Girls were about twice as likely to practice yoga as boys, but there were no significant differences between the sexes in frequency of meditation practice.
About 17% of white adults practiced yoga, compared to about 9% of African-American adults and 8% of Hispanic adults. And about 15% of white adults reported meditating, compared to about 14% of African-American adults and 11% of Hispanic adults.
The use of chiropractic didn’t change from 2012 to 2017.
The rise in popularity of yoga and meditation probably represents a general shift in attitude, which is due to lots of things. For kids, more and more schools are using meditation and yoga, and sharing their positive results with others. Additionally, more and more studies are showing how powerful the practices can be for brain and behavioral development in kids.
For adults, it’s also probably a combination of the ubiquity of yoga studios, meditation apps, and the media coverage of the plethora of studies showing what the practices can do for body and mind over a lifetime. Meditation in particular has been shown to affect everything from depression symptoms to attention to creativity to brain health as we age. And most of us by now have a friend who swears by their practice, which can do a lot to shift a person’s attitude and openness to trying it out.
As science continues to illustrate the many benefits of the practices, it wouldn’t be surprising if their popularity continues to rise even more steeply in the coming years.