Yoga and meditation, two ancient practices, are now officially the most popular alternative health approaches in the United States, each used by around 35 million adults.
That's the news of two reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that took place on Thursday and badyzed changes in the use of yoga, meditation and chiropractors between 2012 and 2017.
In 2017, approximately 14.3 percent of American adults surveyed by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics said they had practiced yoga in the past 12 months, while 14.2 percent had meditated, according to reports. That's more than in 2012, when 9 percent were doing yoga and 4 percent were meditating.
And they are not just adults; More children are doing yoga and meditation too. In 2012, less than half a percent of children had meditated, whereas now it is 5 percent. Yoga for children grew from 3 percent in 2012 to 8 percent last year.
The report also showed a smaller increase in the use of chiropractors by Americans: it went up from 9.1 percent in 2012 to 10.3 percent in 2017.
The great growth in yoga and meditation is clearly linked to better availability, with a boom in studies, clbades and applications, some of them free and online.
But as more Americans discover that they are struggling with mental health problems such as anxiety, distraction and physical problems such as chronic pain, they are looking for therapies that do not involve pharmaceutical products.
"Many forces in our culture have conspired to raise anxiety and stress, in part due to the large number of messages related to fear in the media, and this makes people feel restless," Richard Davidson, neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin Madison, founder and Director of the Center for Healthy Minds, told Vox. "I think there is a growing interest in strategies such as yoga and meditation that can help people adapt to modern circumstances."
Meanwhile, scientists like Davidson are discovering that yoga and meditation can be at least somewhat effective for a wide variety of health problems, with few side effects. Here is a brief summary of what we know about the potential health benefits of yoga and meditation.
The promising health benefits of yoga.
Researchers who have studied the effects of yoga on health say it is probably as good for your health as many other forms of exercise. But it seems particularly promising to improve low back pain and, fundamentally, reduce inflammation in the body, which can help prevent the disease.
There are also several randomized controlled trials that suggest that yoga can improve the quality of life of patients with diabetes, reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and even help people control high blood pressure.
How can this be? One possibility has to do with inflammation.
You can think of inflammation in two ways. There is a useful inflammation, such as when the immune system of your body produces a response to bacteria in a cut. There is also harmful inflammation. When you are stressed, your body's inflammatory response can become overloaded, which hinders your ability to fight off viruses and diseases. People who are inactive or obese or who eat an unhealthy diet have higher levels of harmful inflammation. And researchers have found badociations between inflammation and several chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Yoga, like other mind and body exercises, such as tai chi and meditation, seems to be particularly useful in reducing harmful inflammation. A 2014 meta-badysis on the effects of mind-body therapies on the immune system found that yoga reduces blood markers based on inflammation. The same was true in this 2014 randomized controlled trial of women with bad cancer and bad cancer survivors.
Michael Irwin, of the UCLA School of Medicine, one of the authors of a descriptive review of 2015 on inflammation and the exercises of the mind and body, told Vox: "When you observe the aerobic exercise necessary to reduce inflammation , people must maintain very vigorous levels ". But not with yoga, he continued. "Even practices with minimum levels of physical activity. [like Iyengar stretches] they can have large effects. " Researchers still do not know why, although they believe that the meditative components of yoga, tai chi and meditation may have something to do with it.
Yoga also helps relieve back pain, both short and long term. The most recent Cochrane systematic review on yoga and chronic low back pain, published in 2017, summarizes the results of the best available studies, which focused mainly on the forms of Iyengar, Hatha or Viniyoga yoga:
There is evidence of low to moderate certainty that yoga compared with controls without exercise results in small to moderate improvements in back-related function at three and six months. Yoga may also be slightly more effective for pain at three and six months, however, the effect size did not reach predefined levels of minimal clinical importance.
So, while this is not a final treatment, the evidence we have points to the direction of a benefit. And that's why, in February 2017, the American College of Physicians advised doctors and patients to try "non-drug therapies" such as exercise, acupuncture, tai chi, yoga and even chiropractic, and avoid medication with prescription or surgical options whenever possible.
Meditation is one of the best tools that humans have to train our minds.
Mindfulness meditation has been practiced in East and Southeast Asia since Buddha began teaching it 2,600 years ago. At that time, I did not consider it a spiritual practice, but a tool to achieve clarity, peace of mind and freedom from suffering. In the last decades, it has taken off in the West, with the help of masters such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield.
The goal of meditation is sometimes misinterpreted as emptying the mind. But as Davidson has said, "it's really about discovering what the true nature of our mind is." It's more of an exploration, an investigation, an opening, a kind of radical honesty about who we are. "
Its power to stabilize the frantic mind and body has also become a fascination for neuroscientists, psychologists and physicians. "Meditation is a discipline … that frees you from the tyranny of feelings," evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright, author of Why is Buddhism true?He said in an interview with Sean Illing of Vox. "It's a technique to take things from anxiety to remorse to real physical pain, and they're taking a perspective on them that frees you from their control."
Recently, scientific researchers have shown in clinical settings that mindful meditation can reduce anxiety and depression, as well as pain.
Although there are few randomized controlled trials on meditation and mental health, a meta-badysis conducted in 2014 by Johns Hopkins researchers for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that meditation, and in particular mindfulness, may play a role in the treatment of depression, anxiety and pain in adults, as well as medication but without side effects. Meditation can also, to a lesser degree, reduce the cost of psychological distress, according to the review.
There is also some evidence that meditation can help prevent cardiovascular disease, although, as the American Heart Association noted in a 2017 statement, "the overall quality and, in some cases, the amount of study data are modest."
When it comes to children, more and more schools are implementing mindfulness meditation programs. Research on meditation for children is still quite preliminary, but a meta-badysis of randomized controlled trials of interventions based on mindfulness in children and adolescents, published in October in the Journal of child psychology and psychiatry found that there were significant positive effects on executive functioning, attention, depression, anxiety / stress and negative behaviors.
Although there is a clear impulse around yoga and meditation, the new data from the CDC show that access to these tools is not the same. White adults were more likely to use yoga and meditation compared to Hispanic and black adults.
And as more people see yoga and meditation as a business opportunity, "there is a challenge around preserving the authenticity of these practices and ensuring that they are taught faithfully," Davidson said. That means respecting and sharing the long history of the practices and teaching them rigorously.
One of the main conclusions of the new data from the CDC is that we have options to experiment with these practices, be they Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques or Iyengar yoga, in applications, videos or in-person clbades. "One size does not fit all," Davidson said. "Some people can benefit from the applications; others can not. But there is a real urgency to train our minds, as our attention is increasingly being captured by digital devices. "