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Yoga and Meditation Are Becoming Mainstream

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

yoga and meditation

Story at-a-glance -

  • A new report by the CDC suggests yoga and meditation are becoming increasingly mainstream among American adults and children
  • More than 14 percent of American adults and 8.4 percent of children ages 4 to 17 reported engaging in yoga during the previous 12 months
  • Meditation use among adults increased more than threefold from 2012 to 14.2 percent in 2017, whereas the rate among children was 5.4 percent
  • Two relatively new forms of exercise that appeal to those looking for a light-hearted form of an ancient practice are laughter yoga and goat yoga
  • Breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation and yoga are making their way into schools where they are sometimes offered as an alternative to detentions

Yoga and meditation are becoming increasingly mainstream according to a new report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As compared to data collected in 2012, rates of involvement with these two complementary health approaches were on the rise in 2017, with more women than men taking advantage of these activities and the health benefits associated with them.

CDC Reports Increased Use of Yoga, Meditation and Chiropractic

Based on data compiled through the National Health Interview Survey, which was conducted in 2012 and 2017, the report, which was issued by the U.S. CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, notes:1

  • Greater numbers of adults aged 18 and older used chiropractic, mediation and yoga in the past 12 months than ever before
  • In 2017, more women than men benefited from these alternative therapies
  • Alternative therapies are more often used by non-Hispanic white adults than Hispanic adults and non-Hispanic black adults

"Many people turn to complementary health approaches, such as yoga and meditation, in order to help with symptom management, such as pain. As well, they turn to these approaches for a general sense of well-being," noted report coauthor Richard Nahin, Ph.D., lead epidemiologist at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), in an email to CNN.2 When comparing the results of the 2012 and 2017 surveys, Nahin and his colleagues observed:3

  • The use of yoga as a complementary health approach increased from 9.5 percent in 2012 to 14.3 percent in 2017
  • Meditation use increased more than threefold from 4.1 percent in 2012 to 14.2 percent in 2017
  • The use of chiropractors edged up slightly from 9.1 percent in 2012 to 10.3 percent in 2017

About the survey outcomes, the NCCIH said:4

Over the past five years, more Americans of all ages are rolling out their yoga mats and meditating.

A large nationally representative survey shows that the number of American adults and children using yoga and meditation has significantly increased over previous years and that use of chiropractic care has increased modestly for adults and held steady for children.”

Nahin told CNN all three methods of complementary medicine are believed to have health benefits. Specifically, he noted:5

  • Yoga is thought to improve not only your general well-being, but also mental health6 and stress management7
  • Yoga has been shown to relieve lower back8 and neck pain9
  • Meditation can help you deal with medical problems such as the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)10
  • Chiropractic spinal manipulation is said to help alleviate low back pain,11 as well as whiplash-associated disorders12

Yoga Is a Powerful Mind-Body Practice

Yoga, which has been around for thousands of years, is a form of exercise you can perform at any age or skill level. It provides both mental and physical benefits. Beyond being a form of physical exercise, yoga can be a lifestyle practice that integrates mental and spiritual elements as well.

With regard to the latter, yoga can be viewed as a form of meditation that demands your full attention as you move from one asana (yoga position) to another.

As you learn new ways of moving and responding to your body and mind, other areas of your life tend to shift and change, too. In a sense, you not only become more physically flexible, but your mind and approach to life may gain some flexibility as well.

A report by the Institute of Science in Society13 details how meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, just to name a few, can actually alter your genetic expression through their impact on your mind. Indeed, thousands of genes have been identified that appear to be directly influenced by your subjective mental state.

Examples of genetic effects obtained through yoga and other meditative practices include the down-regulation of cellular stress response genes and genes associated with the pathway responsible for the breakdown of proteins, while expression of heat shock proteins and immune function are increased.14

One study investigating genetic changes triggered by the relaxation response determined that meditative or mindfulness practices affect no less than 2,209 different genes.15 Among its many health benefits, regular yoga practice can:16

Alleviate anxiety and depression

Diminish job stress

Improve your immune function and sleep

Lower your blood pressure and blood glucose levels

Promote balance, body alignment, flexibility, stamina and strength

Reduce your risk of migraine headaches

Relieve low back pain

According to the CDC survey,17,18 in 2017, 19.8 percent of adult women said they had done yoga in the last year, compared to 8.6 percent of men. In terms of how race plays into the results, about 17.1 percent of white adults stated they practiced yoga, compared to just 9.3 percent of black adults and 8 percent of Hispanic adults.

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Laughter and Goat Yoga Are Two New Twists on This Ancient Practice

As demonstrated in the video above, laughter yoga combines some of the benefits of regular yoga with the joyfulness of laughter. About this unique form of exercise, certified laughter yoga teacher Celeste Greene, director of Laughter Yoga Atlanta, told CNN:

“In laughter yoga we come together in a group and generate laughter as a form of exercise. We make eye contact … and engage in playful exercises. It’s called laughter yoga because of the diaphragmatic breathing that takes place — when we laugh, it’s a full inhalation and a full exhalation.”

One participant in Greene’s program claims laughter yoga helps her manage stress more effectively because she is in a more relaxed frame of mind. Another says laughter is a good form of exercise and it lifts his spirits. About laughter yoga, Sophie Scott, professor of neuroscience at the University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said:

“It feels good to laugh because you get a change in the uptake of naturally circulating endorphins and those are the body’s painkillers. You actually get a measurable increase in your ability to tolerate pain.

A lot of time you get a decrease in cortisol and cortisol is a stress hormone. When you laugh, you’re more relaxed, you feel better and you become less stressed.”

If you are bound by stress and are looking for a light-hearted form of exercise that can be performed by nearly everyone, you may want to check out laughter yoga or, perhaps, goat yoga, which got its start in the U.S. in 2016. Because the animals may urinate on your mat or climb on your back during certain poses, goats bring an unexpected level of fun and laughter to traditional yoga sessions.

Meditation May Help You Reduce and Manage Stress

Stress is one of the biggest challenges facing U.S. adults, with many reporting the negative impact stress has on their mental and physical health. The American Psychological Association’s 2018 Stress in America survey19 revealed the average reported stress level of American adults on a scale of 1 to 10 is 4.9.

Older adults were on the low end of stress (3.3), whereas millennials claimed to have the highest stress level (5.7). Other results include: 20

74 percent of American adults suggest they have experienced at least one symptom of stress in the past month

64 percent name work and money as sources of significant stress

63 percent consider health-related concerns to be a significant source of stress

56 percent felt they needed more emotional support in the past year

45 percent say they lie awake at night due to stress

37 percent eat too much or eat unhealthy foods due to stress

Given the extent of stress and its far-reaching effects, meditation is a simple technique you can practice anytime, anywhere to alleviate stress. If you are not sure where to begin, gratitude can be a great focal point for lower stress.

Simply reflecting on things for which you can be thankful (versus what is irritating or lacking) can do wonders to energize your mood and ratchet down your stress levels.

One type of meditation easily applied to virtually any activity is called "mindfulness,” which involves paying attention to the moment you're in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, you actively choose to live in the current moment, while letting distracting thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in them.

You can incorporate mindfulness into virtually any aspect of your day — eating, doing household chores, driving or working — simply by reining in your mind and paying attention to the sensations you are experiencing in the present moment.

In a 2017 study,21 70 adults with generalized anxiety disorder who completed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class fared better when facing stressful situations than those who were trained in stress-management techniques alone.

In the MBSR class, participants learned elements of mindfulness meditation, including paying attention to the present moment, as well as gentle yoga and body scan meditation.

The MBSR group reported meditation helps reduce stress. Notably, their physical measures of stress were also lower, including the stress hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and proinflammatory cytokines, which are markers of inflammation.

Though awareness of meditation is growing, the numbers are still pretty low. According to the CDC survey22,23 just 16 percent of women said they had practiced meditation in the past year, as had about 12 percent of men.

Race is not a significant factor with respect to meditation based on the fact 15.2 percent of white adults, 13.5 percent of black adults and 10.9 percent of Hispanic adults said they had meditated in the past year. To learn more, check out my article “How Meditation Benefits Your Mind and Body.”

Chiropractic Adjustments Help Relieve Pain and Treat Chronic Conditions

While previously used most often to treat back pain, chiropractic treatment addresses many other problems — including asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, headaches, migraines, musculoskeletal pain, neck pain and whiplash.24 The video above provides an overview of this popular alternative therapy.

According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, patients with neck pain who used a chiropractor and/or exercise were more than twice as likely to be pain-free in 12 weeks compared to those who took medication.25

During your initial visit, a chiropractor will likely record your health history and perform a physical examination — with special emphasis on your spine. If chiropractic treatment is considered appropriate, your clinician will create a treatment plan to address your particular needs.

Although spinal manipulation is the type of adjustment most commonly associated with chiropractic, your practitioner may also use:26

  • Acupuncture
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Heat and ice
  • Rehabilitative exercise
  • Relaxation techniques

Children Also Increasingly Turning to Meditation and Yoga

Lest you think adults are the only ones supporting the trends toward alternative therapies such as chiropractic, meditation and yoga, the CDC survey revealed:27,28

Yoga use by children ages 4 to 17 years increased from 3.1 percent in 2012 to 8.4 percent in 2017

Meditation use by children increased significantly from 0.6 percent in 2012 to 5.4 percent in 2017

Chiropractic use by children remained unchanged between 2012 (3.5 percent) and 2017 (3.4 percent)

In 2017, girls were more likely to have done yoga during the past 12 months than boys

In 2017, children ages 12 to 17 years were more likely to have visited a chiropractor or used meditation in the past 12 months than children aged 4 to 11 years

Non-Hispanic white children were more likely to have used yoga and chiropractic in the past year than non-Hispanic black children or Hispanic children

Mindfulness meditation has been making inroads to schools, such as the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, where disruptive kids are no longer sent to the principal's office for misbehaving.29 Instead, they go to the “Mindful Moment Room,” which is tastefully decorated with lamps, plush pillows and other comfortable surroundings.

Rather than staring at a wall or sitting in a corner, kids are encouraged to engage in healthy practices like breathing and meditation designed to help them calm down, focus and re-center. An adult also helps them calmly talk through what happened.

Schools like Coleman Elementary and nearby Patterson Park High School that use meditation instead of traditional detention programs note lower rates of absenteeism and suspensions.

The Coleman Elementary program, which is sponsored by the Holistic Life foundation, a local nonprofit, teaches pre-K through fifth-grade students proper breathing, mindfulness meditation and yoga. “It’s amazing,” says Kirk Philips, the Holistic Me coordinator at Coleman Elementary, “You wouldn't think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do."30