Most folks already know people have practiced meditation for thousands of years.
Historians have documented meditations eastern roots for many years. And meditation has simply been a way of life for countless people across the globe for generations.
But how did it spread to the west, and where is it headed next? Clearly, meditation is taking the western world by storm as more and more people discover its inherent benefits.
But the sheer variety of ways practitioners are integrating it into our modern world is exciting and suggests that people are embracing meditation on an unprecedented level that’s literally miles away from its eastern origins.
Many people mark the rise of meditation in the western world to initial scientific studies of the 1970s and latter half of the 20th century.
Transformative Meditation Experience
One such noteworthy pioneer was an MIT-trained molecular biologist, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who in 1979 decided to turn a transformative meditation retreat experience into a field of study.
Kabat-Zinn worked with the Department of Medicine and the hospital administration at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical Center.
He created a revolutionary new program that would study meditation and how it affected a number chronic health conditions and particularly chronic pain.
Studying Meditation and Chronic Pain
Starting with an intensive 10-week program that included guided meditation practice six days a week, the results – which initially just relied on volunteers and interns were startling.
The results grabbed attention across the medical world.
Kabat-Zinn and his contemporaries had a huge hurdle in those early years. They were up against people who were under the misconception that meditation treatments were “New Age-y” or “religion based” or simply outside the realm of medical science.
But, clearly, they were proven wrong.
When Kabat-Zinn’s first research article on mindfulness and the treatment of pain came out in 1982 in a medical journal, the Western world slowly started to take notice.
A handful of other medical articles and studies on mindfulness meditation that were solely based on medical science started to come to the surface.
Flash forward 30 years or so, and Kabat-Zinn’s small pilot program has grown by leaps and bounds.
More than 2,000 patients have participated in the UMass meditation program, which created 1,000 certified meditation instructors as well as similar programs in 720 medical settings in more than 30 different countries.
And as the wave of doctors and scientists who took notice of these initiatives grew, meditation research expanded over the past 15-20 years to look well past how doctors could use it for pain management.
Impact on Medical Conditions
New studies came to the surface that examined how meditation affected dozens if not hundreds of medical conditions.
Researchers have published papers and research articles on the links between meditation and:
- Brain injuries
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety disorders
- Diabetes, HIV/Aids
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Organ transplants
And once meditation was embraced by the medical community, with regular headlines toting a new benefit of the practice, the rest of the Western world followed suit.
Arguably, meditation first surfaced on a global scale in hospitals, universities and research labs and then simply spread from there.
Impact on "New" Setting
Once deemed acceptable, meditation started showing up in “new” settings.
Training programs started to appear in public and private K-12 schools. As well as other new arenas like the US Military, where soldiers started to undergo a mindfulness-based mind fitness training called M-fit.
Meditation even appeared in US prisons, where psychologists offered different kinds of meditation to prisoners as a way to deal with the stress of living behind bars.
Outside of government run organizations, meditation also leaked into the private world. Corporate leaders like Steve Jobs and Google execs were embracing meditation long before it became mainstream.
And the practice trickled down from industry giants and Silicon Valley to the rest of the working world.
Most recently, meditation started to gain recognition in the realm of sports.
It's well known that Michael Jordan and his 1990 Chicago Bulls teammates meditated on their road to winning NBA championships.
And the practice gained unprecedented steam in the 2010s when teams like the 2013 Super Bowl Champions the Seattle Seahawks claimed that they used meditation and mantras like “Quiet your mind” and “Focus your attention inwardly.”
Where Is Meditation Headed Next?
After successfully launching meditation programs in public schools, expect to see more in the classroom.
It’s also spreading to companies of all sizes as well as in doctor’s offices all across the country.
So, in just 40 short years, meditation has gone from an unknown Eastern practice to a part of life for millions of Americans.
This rapid growth is a testament to the power of meditation. It's also a sign of how embracing a simple practice can make every person better in seemingly limitless ways.
Having a professional teacher on your side will go a long way in getting you started. Once you’re on the path, you’ll be amazed at how far meditation will take you.