“Take a deep breath, think about where you’re going next, and open your eyes” … How mindfulness became big business

July 2, 2019

“Take a deep breath, think about where you’re going next, and open your eyes.”

I open my eyes. There’s no one in the room. It is just how I left it.

In fact I’ve just spent the last hour, focusing on my breath, body and the sounds around me. I’m not at the top of an inspiring mountain or at an exotic retreat in Bali. Instead, I’m doing what has become very big business: a bit of mindfulness, meditating with the help of an app called Headspace.

The mindfulness market

Mindfulness is a secularised form of meditation that places an emphasis on focusing on the present and observing the mind. Secularised, popularised and commercialised.

Over the past decade, perceptions around mindfulness have changed and meditation has been adopted around the world from the business to the battlefield – but the trend is most prolific on our smartphones. The “mindfulness” market is now worth well over $1 billion in the USA – its largest market – with more than 1,000 smartphone apps and as many studios and experts creating content and building an audience for its practise all over the world.

The mindfulness market is part of a larger global “wellness economy”. The definition of wellness is blurry at best, including holistic practises (of varying scientific provability) such as diet, exercise, mental and occupational health. These practises often function as supplements to medicine, focusing on optimum “health” rather than prevention and treatment. According to the Global Wellness Institute’s latest statistics, the wellness market was worth $4.2 trillion in 2017. Increasingly, this market is digitalising: bringing a traditionally material product into the distraction-laden world of smart technology.

Of course, there is irony in the fact that smartphone apps asking us to focus our attention away from digital distractions are accessed through those same digital devices. Yet the market for this type of app is growing. Wearables, such as Fitbit and Apple Watch have exploded, with the total market estimated to be worth $25bn by the end of 2019, according to CSS Insight. The broader health technology market was coined a ‘long-term investment supertrend’ by Credit Suisse and is expected to be worth $206bn by 2020.

What is mindfulness?

Meditation and neuroscience

Entrepreneurial mindfulness

Chade Meng-Tan was the 107th employee of Google. And like all Google employees at the time, Meng was allowed to spend 20% of his time on solving whatever problem he wanted. So he decided to solve world peace.

Finding some headspace

Mindfulness is big business

Open your eyes