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Study: A lot more Americans are meditating now than just 5 years ago

Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

If the stress of modern life seems overwhelming, consider giving meditation a try. More than 35 million of your fellow Americans already have.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 14.2 percent of American adults surveyed in 2017 said they had practiced meditation at least once in the last year. That means it rivals yoga as the most popular type of complementary health practice in the United States.

It's a dramatic change from 2012, when only 4.1 percent of adults said they practiced meditation.

And it's not just grown-ups who have turned to meditation. Over the same five-year period, the proportion of U.S. children who have tried some form of meditation jumped from 0.6 percent to 5.4 percent.

The data come from the National Health Interview Survey, a long-running study from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. Each year, thousands of Americans are visited in their homes and asked all sorts of questions about their well-being. Nearly 35,000 adults were surveyed in 2012, as were almost 27,000 adults in 2017. Participants who had children between the ages of 4 and 17 were asked about their kids' health practices as well.

Overall, the responses show that Americans are becoming more open to health and wellness practices that mainstream medicine still considers "unconventional." For instance, 14.3 percent of adults who were questioned in 2017 said they had practiced yoga in the last year, up from 9.5 percent in 2012. In addition, 10.3 percent of participants in the 2017 survey said they used a chiropractor in the last year, up from 9.1 percent five years earlier.

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But Americans' embrace of meditation was far more dramatic. The proportion of adults who at least tried meditation more than tripled over five years, while the proportion of children who meditated at least once increased by a factor of nine.

Among kids, yoga is still more popular than meditation -- 8.4 percent of youths practiced it in the year before the 2017 survey. But among adults, yoga and meditation were in a statistical tie, the report authors said.

The CDC survey considered meditation to be "the act of engaging in mental exercise to reach a heightened level of spiritual awareness or mindfulness." This could include: transcendental meditation or other forms of mantra meditation; mindfulness meditation, such as Zen Buddhist meditation or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy; and spiritual meditation based on prayer or other contemplative thoughts.

Participants were not asked how often they meditated, only whether they had done so in the last year. Some of those who said yes might have tried it once and decided it was not for them, while others might practice it every day.

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