A new study by a multidisciplinary group of researchers at several universities calls out the “misinformation and propagation of poor research methodology” that pervade much of the evidence behind the benefits of mindfulness. They focus in particular on the problem of defining the word mindfulness and on how the effects of the practice are studied.
The revelation is particularly disconcerting in light of how big of a business meditation has become. A veritable industry, the practice brings in around $1 billion annually, according to Fortune. That industry includes apps, classes and medical treatments.
Through the WI Lens
This article is of particular interest because it crystallizes many of the issues that beset the “wellness” industry. A growing number of academics now argue that much of the research around meditation and mindfulness has serious conceptual flaws: too many definitions for mindfulness; failure to use valid control groups of people who did not meditate and absence of a recognized scale to measure the benefits of mindfulness.
What does it tell us? The market is saturated with unnecessary offerings that provide little or no value to consumers. A cleanup is therefore in the offing. Meditation has become a USD1bn+ business globally, much of it based on flawed science. Most likely, the hype will fade, taking down many companies that thrived on trendiness and exploited a lack of common sense on the part of the customer. Hundreds of apps built on shaky ground will disappear. Many “empty” courses will follow suit.
On a broader note, the article suggests that some wellness “solutions” are either flawed or void of any content. So fashionable and in such demand, wellness runs the risk of falling foul to the “Emperor’s new clothes” syndrome. Moving forward, the wellness companies that are likely to survive and thrive will (1) embrace simplicity (walking, swimming, appreciating silence or admiring a landscape can be as efficient as meditation in terms of soothing our mind) and (2) be authentic in their offering, not b**** their clients with false claims and scientific pretences.
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”
“All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.”
“The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure.”
“The same broad-sweeping structural racism that enables police brutality against black Americans is also responsible for higher mortality among black Americans with Covid-19,” Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist working on the Covid-19 response, tells Vox.
The take-out from this? Wellbeing cannot exist at a more elevated level without our basic needs being met.