Meditation classes go viral in China as subscriber numbers double after COVID-19 outbreak

A young woman meditates on a balcony. Photo: CGV

“Shift your attention to the parts of your body that are in contact with the ground, such as the back of the head, shoulders, back, hips, legs…” a soft voice accompanied by soothing music of a drug application makes Li Huizi feel relaxed and helps clear her mind after a busy day at work.

Every evening after finishing work, Li, a 29-year-old employee in Shanghai’s fast-paced consumer goods industry, opens a meditation app to do 30 minutes of exercise.

“I used to go to the gym, but since the pandemic hit, practicing meditation has become a new routine for me. During the session, I only focused on my breathing to disperse the negative energy of a day,” Li told the Global Times on Monday.

Compared to its popularity in the West, meditation is relatively new and niche in China. But the disruptions brought by the COVID-19 epidemic and the quickening pace of modern life have led to the leisure boom in China.

Induced by the pandemic

Online meditation classes have become popular since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, which has increased the demand for mental health services.

A search for meditation-related apps on Huawei’s App Store shows dozens of recommended apps, and some of the best apps have accumulated tens of millions of downloads. On the Chinese video platform Bilibili, the section under medicine gathered 61,000 videos and 250 million views.

Data from fitness app Keep showed the number of drug classes on the platform doubled from 101 in December 2021 to 207 in May 2022, as meditation classes increasingly attract more people. ‘Warning.

Len, founder of the Now Meditation app, told the Global Times on Monday that their monthly subscribers had doubled during the outbreak, from 50,000-150,000 subscribers per month to 200,000-300,000 per month after March 2020. L app now has over 10 million subscribers.

The pandemic has raised people’s concerns about mental health, and more users are trying meditation for anxiety relief, Len said.

Physical classes are also booming.

Mental health solution provider KnowYourself (KY) established its first physical meditation store called “Practice in City” in Shanghai in 2020, which can hold eight meditation classes a day, and the total number of registered members has exceeded 10,000 in 2021, Qian Zhuang, the founder and CEO of KY, told the Global Times on Monday.

KY operates its mental health business through a WeChat mini program and mobile apps, and its users across all platforms have reached 20.2 million. The cities with the most users are China’s first-tier cities where income levels are higher, even though competition is fierce.

According to Len, his clients are mostly between the ages of 25 and 35. Most of them are white-collar workers in the first-tier cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, as they often face higher work pressure.

This represents a huge market.

For example, around 300 million people in China suffer from sleep disorders, with 57.41% of respondents reporting insomnia for one to seven days per month, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2022.

According to data from iiMedia Research from 2016 to 2020, China’s overall “sleep economy” market size increased from 261.63 billion yuan ($38.69 billion) to 377.86 billion. yuan, an increase of 44.42% and is expected to exceed one trillion yuan in 2030.

According to data from Orange IT, from 2021 to April 2022, a total of 17 investment and financing projects took place in the field of mental health, with the cumulative amount of investment and financing exceeding 1.5 billion dollars. yuan.

Growing market scale

Meditation could be a good business that has just taken off in China although it remains small compared to that of the United States.

According to the Global Health Institute, mental wellness is a $121 billion market and insiders estimate the market size of China’s mental health industry to be around 300 billion yuan.

As an important branch of mental health, the global meditation market will reach $20.5 billion by 2029, according to DataBridge. The United States is the largest meditation market in the world with $1.21 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $2 billion in 2022.

According to Now Meditation, 14% of the population in the United States practice meditation as a way of life, but in China that figure is less than 1%.

“The Chinese market is still relatively small. However, due to China’s large user base and increased focus on mental health, it is believed that meditation is set to become an integral part of the Chinese mental health market. “, said Len.

The absence of top players and professional instructors is a major obstacle to the development of the drug industry, according to insiders.

Len says a lot of people have stereotypes about meditation and see it as something mystical and religious.

Meditation dates back to India. In 1978, Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology introduced “mindfulness-based stress reduction” which helped remove its religious connotations.

“The market needs to be cultivated,” Len said, noting that it is not easy to find qualified professional talent in China, which is also an urgent problem for the industry to solve.

Qian noted that mental health services in China are now understaffed, with uneven levels and a lack of uniform standards.

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