A new analysis shows that meditators differed from nonmeditators on key factors, such as demographics, health behaviors, health status, and health care access. These results expand on the relatively limited information known about the characteristics of people who practice meditation. The findings, published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, are based on data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), a large survey conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
In growing recognition of the diversity of traditions and practices, the 2012 NHIS collected information on three common meditation styles—mantra, mindfulness, and spiritual meditation—to provide greater insight on these practices. The analysis examined the prevalence and patterns of use among 34,525 adults during the 12 months prior to the survey.*
Comparing meditators and nonmeditators, the results showed that:
Meditators were more likely than nonmeditators to be middle-aged, white, female, college-educated, and living in the Western United States.
Meditators were more likely to engage in preventive health practices such as physical activity, quitting smoking, and having their cholesterol checked.
Meditators were more likely to be underweight/heathly body weight (41% versus 31%).
Meditators had more health concerns, including one or more functional limitations (45% versus 34%), chronic back pain (39% versus 27%), and depression (22% versus 9%).
Meditators were more likely to have visited a conventional health care provider 10 or more times in the previous 12 months (26% versus 13%).
Looking at exclusive use of one of the three types of meditation revealed the following:
Individuals in all three meditation groups shared characteristics found among users of other complementary health practices, especially self-care or wellness-oriented activities such as yoga.
Meditation prevalence was typically higher for survey respondents who were female, non-Hispanic white, college-educated, and physically active; who used acupuncture, yoga, and vegetarian diets; and who reported depression as well as higher use of conventional health care services.
The use of spiritual meditation was more prevalent among those reporting health complaints, using more conventional health services, and being a former drinker and/or a former smoker. Spiritual meditation was also the largest meditation group.
Looking at mindfulness meditation specifically:
More respondents practiced mindfulness meditation for wellness than to treat a specific health condition (73% versus 30%).
Stress management, emotional well-being, having an increased sense of control over health issues, and better sleep were the top wellness-related reasons reported for practicing mindfulness meditation.
Meditators were more likely than nonmeditators to use other complementary health approaches, including provider-based practices such as chiropractic and self-care approaches such as yoga.
The researchers concluded that use of meditation may be more about the type of person practicing than about the specific type of meditation practiced—people using diverse methods to support health and well-being. Considering the nature of consumer preference for seemingly distinct types of meditation practices, understanding the underlying mechanisms, benefits, and applications of practice variations is important.
Burke A, Lam CN, Stussman B, et al. The practice of meditation: prevalence and patterns of use among adults in the United States. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. June 15, 2017. Epub ahead of print.
*A previous analysis showed that the total number of U.S. adults who practiced mantra, mindfulness, or spiritual meditation or used meditation as part of other practices (yoga, tai chi, and qi gong) was almost 18 million.
Clair Brown, an economist at UC Berkeley and a practicing Buddhist, has developed a holistic economic approach, where the economy delivers a high quality of life in a sustainable world. Buddhist economics integrates sustainability, equity, and compassion. While teaching her sophomore seminar at UC Berkeley, Professor Brown learned, “You don’t have to be a Buddhist to embrace a Buddhist approach to economics. You need only share the Dalai Lama’s belief that human nature is gentle and compassionate and embrace the idea that economics can be a force for good, one that goes beyond self-centered materialism.” Clair is one of the most humble, loving people I have ever met. Her new book, Buddhist Economicsis a treasure.
Western and Buddhist psychologies acknowledge the significant role distorted self-narratives play in poor mental health. But these two disciplines hold divergent views on the utility of ‘cherishing the self’. Western psychology claims high self-esteem is a requirement for self-confidence, happiness, and success. Buddhist psychology asserts wisdom and compassion are the forerunners of genuine confidence and sustainable personal and collective well-being. It further states that endemic self-cherishing—the habitual reification of distorted hyper-egoic self-narratives—is a primary source of mental and emotional affliction. Yet, Buddhist psychology also affirms the innate capacity of all human beings to end the mental suffering of self-cherishing. This chapter explicates Western and Buddhist psychological models of self, Buddhist theories of not-self and conventional and ultimate self-cherishing, and outlines a somatopsychotherapeutic clinical approach for helping individuals struggling with depressive, anxious, trauma-related symptoms and addictions, to recognize self-cherishing mentation and lessen its deleterious effects.
Way to go Judson Brewer, MD, PhD! Jud is the Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Here he shares groundbreaking research on the possible mechanisms of action cultivated through mindfulness practice that help quell cravings of all kinds in his TEDMED talk from November 2015 in Palm Springs, CA.
Stephen Batchelor discusses a secular dharma based upon his interpretation of the historical Buddha’s teachings found in the Pāli Canon. I think he does a fantastic job of condensing the main topics more deeply expounded upon in his terrific new book, After Buddhism, which I highly recommend. Stephen does have some very thoughtful comments about the conflictual issues of secular mindfulness and corporate mindfulness in the Q&A found toward the end.
I offer this original sound/artwork as a gift to a world suffering with greed, hatred, and great confusion. This recording features the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, a profound Tibetan Buddhist teaching by Geshe Langri Tangpa (1054–1123).
The Eight Verses provides a gateway into the awakened mind of a Bodhisattva by beautifully illustrating the inseparability of mind and heart in a very challenging and thoughtful manner. The text is a practical manual for developing the Pāramīs/Pāramitās: generosity, virtue, renunciation, wisdom, enthusiasm, patience, truthfulness, determination, lovingkindness, equanimity/compassion.
Seating oneself firmly in the sacredness of mind/heart allows full extension of the Bodhisattvic commitment to develop Bodhicitta; the altruistic intention to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. May this practice liberate all beings from the ocean of samsara.