Updated: Oct 6
The meditation industry in the United States alone is now estimated to be worth $1B. A small chunk of the $4.5T global wellness industry. Central to that industry is mindfulness.
This ancient upstart is the fastest-growing wellness intervention in the world today and is being propelled by a culture that is engaging more and more with anything that will address the global rise of burnout and work-generated stress. As a consequence, the mindfulness industry is expected to be worth $9B globally by 2027.
This is being aided and abetted by a plethora of smartphone apps such as Headspace and Calm, both billion-dollar industries that have capitalised on the growing scientific evidence for the health benefits of mindfulness. The global mindfulness app market is expected to be worth $4,206M by 2027.
Alongside the surge in smartphone apps is the Covid-19-propelled move to more online spaces providing mindfulness trainings. Breathworks, the UK-based leader in mindfulness for health programmes, has now moved all their training programmes to an online format. To be fair, they were in the process of implementing this prior to the pandemic, but Covid-19 certainly accelerated it. There are many other organisations and individuals filling the online space with mindfulness training programmes of varying quality and integrity, a number of them for free.
It seems that the future of mindfulness will be largely digital, but to engage in this way it must overcome the potential within the form for shallow learning and low engagement.
Right now, there are many people suffering from mental health conditions that, due to cultural or socio-economic factors cannot access mindfulness. What will it take for mindfulness to become more mainstream and be accepted fully into the clinical cannon as a way of dealing with mental health conditions? In 2014, 16 million adults in the US had at least one major depressive episode. Practicing mindfulness can help to foster resilience in the face of chronic stress and depression, regardless of socio-economic status and the evidence for this is mounting.
The advantage that mindfulness intervention as therapy has is that it is astonishingly cheap. In the UK, the government is promoting a widespread roll-out of MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) to address the rise of various mental health conditions. The danger here is in trying to address widespread social problems with an entirely individualised solution. Mindfulness is however being emphasised as a public policy cure-all because it is extremely politically attractive and is thus receiving significant public investment.
Through the advance of digital technology, the rise of serious mental health disorders and the research evidence to support mindfulness interventions in dealing with them, combined with intense political scrutiny backed up by massive public funding, the future of mindfulness is assured.
Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen. As any Buddhist will tell you, mindfulness (which was developed by the Buddha, 2,500 years ago) is not just about meditation. The three elements of a good mindfulness meditation practice are ethics, meditation and the arising of wisdom. All three elements are interdependent. Take only the meditation element and we end up with the current situation where the practice is adopted by the likes of the US Marines in their pre-deployment training as an aid to dealing with chaos and battle-field stress. You can’t get much further from the teachings of the Buddha than this.
The danger in the exploding mindfulness industry is that the practice could lose its main purpose for existence which is, as the Buddha expounded, the complete cessation of suffering through an intense realisation of non-self and the impermanence and emptiness of existence.