Background: Despite a growing body of scientific literature exploring the nature of meditation there is limited information on the characteristics of individuals who use it. This is particularly true of comparative studies examining prevalence and predictors of use of various forms of meditation.
Methods: A secondary analysis was conducted using data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (n = 34,525). Three popular forms of meditation were compared-mantra, mindfulness, and spiritual-to determine lifetime and 12-month use related to key sociodemographic, health behavior, health status, and healthcare access variables.
Results: The 12-month prevalence for meditation practice was 3.1% for spiritual meditation, 1.9% for mindfulness meditation, and 1.6% for mantra meditation. This represents approximately 7.0, 4.3, and 3.6 million adults respectively. A comparison across the three meditation practices found many similarities in user characteristics, suggesting interest in meditation may be more related to the type of person meditating than to the type of practice selected. Across meditation styles use was more prevalent among respondents who were female, non-Hispanic White, college educated, physically active; who used other complementary health practices; and who reported depression. Higher utilization of conventional healthcare services was one of the strongest predictors of use of all three styles. In addition to similarities, important distinctions were observed. For example, spiritual meditation practice was more prevalent among former drinkers. This may reflect use of spiritual meditation practices in support of alcohol treatment and sobriety. Reasons for use of meditation were examined using the sample of respondents who practiced mindfulness meditation. Wellness and prevention (74%) was a more common reason than use to treat a specific health condition (30%). Common reasons for use included stress management (92%) and emotional well-being (91%), and to support other health behaviors. Meditation was viewed positively because it was self-care oriented (81%) and focused on the whole person (79%).
Conclusion: Meditation appears to provide an accessible, self-care resource that has potential value for mental health, behavioral self-regulation, and integrative medical care. Considering consumer preference for distinct types of meditation practices, understanding the underlying mechanisms, benefits, and applications of practice variations is important.
Keywords: Complementary therapies; Health promotion; Integrative medicine; Meditation; Mind body therapies; National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).