What’s Next For The Mindfulness Industry?
In recent years, meditation and mindfulness have broken into the mainstream. As a result, this centuries-old practice has become a buzzword and newly minted investment muse.
But does our obsession with mindfulness and the commoditization of meditation defeat the purpose? And as the industry matures, what’s next in mindfulness? Let’s take a look.
Mindfulness is based on the ancient Buddhist and Hindu traditions like meditation and yoga, among other things. It typically involves bringing one’s attention to the present moment.
Analysts at IBISWorld recently reported that the US meditation industry is now worth $1.1B, making up 6.5% of the alternative healthcare industry. The same report predicted a 2% rise in revenue for 2019 and continued revenue growth over the next five years.
Meditation is becoming so popular that some experts expect it to become a pillar of wellness, alongside diet and exercise. A recent NCHS report backs this up, calling meditation and mindfulness practices the fastest-growing health trend in America, with nearly 40% of people reporting weekly meditation and breathwork sessions. The NIH reports slightly lower yet still compelling numbers, with 15% of people in America reporting a meditation practice.
Sara Lazar, PhD, an associate research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, says she’s seen this trend emerge in her research.
Lazar has been studying the effects of yoga and meditation on the brain for decades, and she has personally watched the industry transform into what it has become today. However, given its widespread adoption and commoditization, it’s worth asking: have we already hit peak mindfulness? Lazar suggests that the data says both yes and no.
Like the state of wearables, there’s a familiar ambivalence in that response. But her answer makes sense when you see how the business of mindfulness has manifested itself within the $4.2T wellness industry.
This rising trend in mindfulness has been driven by a few key factors:
First, there’s the integration of technology into traditional mindfulness practices. On iTunes, there are nearly 1,000 mindfulness and meditation apps to choose from, ranging from well-known and market-winning options like Headspace and Calm to niche offerings like Expectful, for pregnant mothers, or MindSport, for athletes. These applications make meditation much more accessible and affordable for people all over the world. Simply fire up an app and pop your headphones in.
Second, new research on mindfulness and meditation has proven the practice’s benefits, even for people who practice for as little as 10 minutes. These studies, many of which were funded by the NIH, have shown that meditation practices can help people control and manage their pain, especially chronic pain. The practice can also help to lower blood pressure, improve anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as assist with smoking cessation.
At the same time, the rising popularity of wellness culture and self-care have thrust mindfulness into the spotlight. Perpetuated by the Wellness Industrial Complex, meditation and mindfulness are perfectly aligned with our never-ending pursuit of optimization and productivity. As influencers, celebrities, and CEOs all share their mindfulness routine, new apps, studios, and services are being introduced to serve this growing demand.
The broader cultural tie-in centers on anxiety and burnout. According to a 2018 APA poll, 40% of Americans are more anxious than they were at this time last year. Today’s teenagers report higher rates of anxiety and depression, too. Mindfulness, then, seems like a natural remedy to combat these difficult trends.
The Opportunity Ahead
IBISWorld analysts report that by 2024, the alternative healthcare industry—which includes meditation, massage, acupuncture, breathing exercises, yoga and tai chi, chiropractic services, and natural products—will be worth a staggering $19.9B. This finding suggests ample room for new business growth.
The report goes on to pinpoint a growing interest in mindfulness among middle-aged women aged 30–69 with a higher disposable income, since most alternative therapies require out-of-pocket payment. And thus, one of the biggest opportunity areas that exist in the mindfulness industry is around baby boomers—especially those who are seeing rising rates of chronic illness—who are looking for relief outside the scope of the traditional healthcare system.
Currently, most alternative healthcare options are not covered by insurers — but this could change in the coming years. As research expands and holistic wellness continues to seep into the mainstream, the industry as a whole should expect a boost as insurers expand coverage to services like meditation and acupuncture. The opportunity to partner with payers and providers could also lead to consolidation, where mindfulness companies offering the same or similar app-based tools team up to meet the needs of large insurers, as well as negotiating beneficial partnerships for corporate clients.
And while the application market is fairly saturated, it’s likely that we’ll also see a heavier push toward science-enabled mindfulness technologies in the next five years. As an example, Lazar points to new products like the Muse headband, which uses biofeedback to deliver brain-tracking data to answer the age-old question: “Am I doing this right?”
WAVE Meditation is another similar solution. Co-founded by Mason Levey of hip-hop-focused yoga chain Y7 Studio, WAVE’s music-driven, at-home meditation app comes complete with a sensory, vibrating pillow. The company’s recent launch was precipitated by $5.65M in seed funding from a group of investors including Crosslink Capital, Collaborative Fund, Ludlow Ventures, and Lerer Hippeau.
Similarly, Headspace, the one of the largest meditation solutions on the market, is currently upping the scientific ante; they’re rumored to be chasing FDA approval, which would allow the company to offer their tools as a prescription in the workplace and at medical clinics.
But all this upside represents an ethical conundrum for traditional mindfulness practitioners and researchers.
Some experts have gone so far as to call this industry boom “McMindfulness”, referencing the fact that a 10-minute, app-assisted meditation or a technology-enabled meditation headband stray incredibly far from the original intent of a Buddhist meditation practice, which has no end goal.
In traditional Buddhist meditation practices, there is no opportunity to “do it right” because the process isn’t something you judge. Meditation and mindfulness programs are also traditionally offered for free—a practice noted for its universalism—which presents an interesting market tension.
This industry isn’t going anywhere, despite it not being perfectly in line with its origins. “To [traditionalists), it’s not the real thing. But if people wanted to be Buddhist, they would go to a center. And they don’t — they’re just looking for symptom reduction,” Lazar rationalized. And opportunities for business and revenue growth are likely to continue to steadily rise for the next five years, if not for longer.
While in-person meditation courses and studios are likely to gain some local traction, the biggest growth opportunities rest mostly in technology-enabled solutions and interventions geared toward baby boomers with chronic illnesses.
To Lazar, this industry’s growth echoes the boom of the running industry in the ’80s. And while running doesn’t have quite the cult following it once did, it has integrated solidly into society and remains a key form of exercise. Lazar says we should expect the same thing from the mindfulness industry: a popularity wave that will crest at some point in the near future but still remain relevant for years to come.