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Meditation Trends Around the World

Stephanie Hsu

While every day is a great day to meditate, the month of May is special. That’s because it’s National Meditation Month, with World Meditation Day coming on May 21st! The origins of World Meditation Day can be traced back through the history of meditation itself. Meditation has been around nearly as long as people have lived on this planet. The earliest written record of meditation can be found in ancient Hindu scriptures called The Vedas. However, historians have found references to meditation that date as far back as 5,000 BCE (over 6,000 years ago!)

Many credit Asia as the birthplace of meditation. Since its inception though, meditation has spread around the world and its principles have been adapted and infused into mindfulness practices unique to different countries.

In honor of World Meditation Day, we decided to take a *virtual* appreciation tour of some of the many ways meditation is practiced around the world.

Meditation Month

Worldwide Meditation Statistics

Estimates suggest between 200 and 500 million people meditate worldwide. With the population of the planet sitting at around 8 billion people, that means between 2-6.25% of the world has meditated before.

While meditation has grown in popularity in western cultures over the past few decades, it skyrocketed with the pandemic’s onset in 2020.

Based on datasets provided by Fitbit, The Global Wellness Institute found that since March of 2020, time spent meditating increased by 2,900% around the world!

Meditation in the United States

In an analysis of over 35,000 adults in the US in 2014, the Pew Research Center found that roughly 40% of adults meditate at least once a week. However, this number varies depending on the source. For instance, a review of the 2012 US National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found the lifetime prevalence of meditation to be closer to 5% (11.8 million adults.)

Most popular types of meditation

The NHIS data found that the most popularly practiced form of meditation was spiritual meditation. Mindfulness meditation and mantra meditation took second and third place for most practiced forms of meditation. 

Reasons people choose to meditate

According to the NHIS data, the #1 reason people practiced meditation was for “general wellness or disease prevention.” Specifically, of the 11.8 million people who had ever meditated in their lifetimes, the most common reasons for meditating were:

  • General wellness or disease prevention (76.2%)
  • To benefit energy levels (60%)
  • To support memory or focus (50%)
  • To enhance immune function (33.8%) 
  • To improve athletic performance (18.4%)

Many respondents reported that the benefits of meditation included improved mental health, reduced stress and anxiety, increased relaxation, and enhanced quality sleep.

Hawaiian Mindfulness with Ho’oponopono

While many forms of meditation today can be traced back to Ancient Eastern practices, some mindfulness traditions are entirely unique. For instance, the practice of Ho’oponopono. Born in the islands of Hawaii, Ho’oponopono roughly translates to “to make right.” 

It is a powerful mantra prayer meditation that is designed to facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation, and to let go of anger, resentment, grief, sorrow, shame, and negative emotions that are believed to foster dis-ease within the body, mind, and spirit.

The traditional mantra goes, “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.”

Meditation in India

India is largely regarded as one of the central birthplaces of meditation. The Pew Research Center reports that nearly half of Indian adults (48%) meditate at least once per week. Meditation may be religiously linked, as the data found that Indian adults who pray every day are more than twice as likely to meditate as other adults.

The same data set found that the number of people who meditate in India differs greatly depending on where they live. For instance, only about 19% of people living in south India report meditating regularly every week, compared to three-quarters of people who live in the central region. (In the central region, a staggering 61% report meditating daily!)

Meditation Practices in Japan

Another early birthplace and contributor to meditation as we now know it is Japan, which has been using and infusing mindfulness into its cultural practices for centuries. 

For instance, a practice that’s been gaining more attention in recent years — Shinrin-Yoku. Translated as “forest bathing,” this practice involves taking mindful walks through forests and appreciating the beauty and qualities of nature. These walks are meant to help people connect with the peace and stillness of the forest, and are typically described as refreshing, rejuvenating, calming, and even joyful experiences.

Meditation in Turkey

In Turkey many practice meditation in the form of keyif, which refers to a state of mind where one is able to do nothing but with meaning. It’s also commonly described as the art of meaningful idleness or pursuing idle pleasures.

To practice keyif, one simply needs to content themselves with soaking up the beauty around them and connecting with the present moment. One can engage in keyif anytime, anywhere.

Mindfulness Practices in Norway

In Norway, many engage in mindfulness through the practice of friluftsliv, which loosely translates to “free air life.” The term was popularized in the 1850s by playwright Henry Ibsen, and refers to the practice of going outside and appreciating all the beauty, clarity, and rejuvenation that nature can offer.

Specifically, it’s regarded as a practice that supports physical and spiritual wellbeing, and can help you step outside your mind to connect with the present moment in a profoundly restorative way. 

Mindfulness Practices in Africa

Unique meditation practices that date back centuries can also be found in Africa. For instance, Kemetic meditations. These meditations are associated with the rituals of Ancient Egypt, and are primarily rooted in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Kemetic meditations involve core rituals and a series of postures meant to invoke the graces and powers of the gods Isis (Auset) and Osiris (Ausar). Those who practice may choose to focus on manifesting aspects of the gods in their own lives, or recite mantras that praise the wisdom of the gods in humility and respect.


Meditation Month

We hope you enjoyed this exploration of meditation and mindfulness around the world, and wish you all the best on World Meditation Day this year!

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