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Table of Contents
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 119-124

Population-level interest and trends in meditation and yoga during lockdown imposed due to coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic In India: Evidence from Google Trends

1 Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India
2 Luxmi Bai Institute of Dental Sciences and Hospital, Patiala, Punjab, India
3 Independent Researcher, Vancouver, BC, Canada
4 Research Coordinator, William Osler Health System, Ontario, Canada

Date of Submission19-Feb-2021
Date of Acceptance21-Sep-2021
Date of Web Publication24-Dec-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Abhinav Sinha
Utkal University, Vani Vihar, Bhubaneswar - 751 023, Odisha
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijcfm.ijcfm_16_21

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Introduction: Yoga and meditation have a potential to give mental peace and calm. The present coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has forced countries to impose lockdown due to its infectious nature, thus restricting people in their homes posing psychosocial impact which can be reduced through yoga. Google Trends (GT) is a proxy indicator for population-level interests, which is used instead of traditional survey methods during pandemic. The objective of this study was to monitor population-level interest and trends in yoga and meditation during lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 in India through GT.
Material & Methods: GT is an open-access, web-based tool which provides unfiltered sample of active search requests made to Google. Various keywords related to yoga and meditation were used to retrieve web-based search volume from January 30, 2020, to June 7, 2020, for India. These data were correlated with number of cases and deaths reported due to COVID-19 as an increase in cases and death might lead to stress among masses.
Results: The search trends and daily number of confirmed cases were fairly correlated (r = 0.647, P = 0.000). The relative search volume for the search trends was also fairly correlated (r = 0.665, P = 0.000) with number of daily deaths due to COVID-19. States such as Uttarakhand and Goa had a higher share of search whereas Meghalaya and West Bengal searched the least.
Conclusion: GT showed an increase in population-level interest in yoga and meditation during COVID-19 lockdown which is a positive indicator for population. This indicates the need for continuity of trend so as to make it a routine habit even after the situation becomes normal.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019, meditation, mental health, pandemic, trends, yoga

How to cite this article:
Sinha A, Ghosal S, Tyagi N, Singh N, Singh KP. Population-level interest and trends in meditation and yoga during lockdown imposed due to coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic In India: Evidence from Google Trends. Indian J Community Fam Med 2021;7:119-24

How to cite this URL:
Sinha A, Ghosal S, Tyagi N, Singh N, Singh KP. Population-level interest and trends in meditation and yoga during lockdown imposed due to coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic In India: Evidence from Google Trends. Indian J Community Fam Med [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Jul 4];7:119-24. Available from: https://www.ijcfm.org/text.asp?2021/7/2/119/333661

  Introduction Top

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has spread rapidly defying geographical boundaries. Being a communicable disease, COVID-19 can spread through direct contact with patients, and hence, physical distancing became obligatory.[1] A sudden increase in cases can severely overwhelm health-care facilities, especially in a resource-constraint setting like India. This challenge of protecting its citizens and seeking time to increase health-care infrastructure was met by calling a countrywide lockdown on March 25, 2020. It also helped in breaking the chain of viral transmission. Although this preventive measure of limiting movement of 1.3 billion people proved to be a boon in containing virus, it levied associated psychological impacts due to the uncertainties.[2]

Psychological impacts can be seen as increased stress or anxiety levels among population.[3] This can be attributed to fear of infection, frustration and boredom, inadequate/interrupted supply of essentials, and misinformation.[4] Psychological effects are also directly related to the extent of homestay, as the number of quarantine days increase, the psychological ill effects too increase.[5] It can even continue to have after effects, as people are concerned about their financial security, livelihood, and stigma/discrimination against the people who got infected.[6] An increase in number of cases and deaths in community makes people apprehensive, thus contributing directly to increased mental stress.[7] Further, this forces people to adopt strategies such as yoga to combat stressful situation.[8]

Physical health and mental health of an individual are interrelated. Regular practice of yoga and meditation has a tremendous potential to elicit physical benefits as well as mental peace and calm.[9] Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices done to calm down the fluctuations/patterns of consciousness.[10] It involves physical exercises in the form of asanas or postures which give physical fitness and relief from stress and relax body and mind.[11] It also helps in improving healthy eating practices and sleep quality and motivates to quit smoking and other addictions.[12],[13],[14]

Meditation is another technique which is practiced to attain mental awareness in the form of emotionally calm and stable mind.[15] The Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India (GoI), in its advisory to combat COVID-19 has recommended the practice of yoga, pranayama, and meditation for at least 30 min daily at home.[16] Keeping in view the awareness campaign and policy dynamics for physical activity and yoga, this study was planned with an objective to monitor population-level interest and trends in yoga and meditation during lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 pandemic in India through Google Trends (GT).

This is the era of the Internet, with India being one of the largest users of smartphones in the world.[17] The information dissemination and consumption has never been the same before. Infodemiology is the branch of science that deals with scanning the web-based health-related content with an aim of improving public health.[18] Google is one of the most widely used search engines with potential to explore health-related content. GT since its inception has been a popular tool used in addressing health-related issues by using Internet search volume data.[19] The online search volume is a proxy indicator for population interests and demands. This method is used as traditional survey methods are time and resource consuming. Furthermore, traditional survey method is not feasible in times of pandemic, complying with the social distancing norms. Therefore, GT data along with traditional COVID-19 data can give directions for taking further step toward the mental well-being of people.

  Material & Methods Top

GT (http://google.com/trends) is an open-access, web-based tool which provides unfiltered sample of active search requests made to Google. It uses sampled data which are representative of all Google searches. It is anonymous, i.e. no one is personally identified. The data are categorized and aggregated. It provides real-time data as well as the data dating far back to 2004, up to 36 h before search. It determines the number of searches over a period of time by analyzing the percentage of total Google web searches. Data do not represent absolute search volume number as data are normalized and are presented on a scale from 0 to 100. Data represent a relative search volume (RSV). An increase in the trend indicates that a search term's popularity is relatively increasing as compared to other searches. Percentages are based on percentage increase in search interest for the searched topic over time. Population level interests in any topic can be seen over time and region; and comparisons can also be done through GT. Trends eliminate repeated searches from the same user over a short period of time for better overall accuracy. Apostrophes and special characters are filtered out from the queries. The search results from GT can be downloaded as a comma-separated values (.csv) file.

Keyword selection for this study was based on the methodology described by Mavragani and Ochoa.[20] The keywords entered for search are not case sensitive, but they do take into account singular/plural and spelling mistakes. Punctuations such as (+) or (−) can be used to filter search results (+) is used as OR and (−) is used to exclude any term. To include the exact term, a double quotation mark can be used. Common misspellings or alternate spellings can be considered by joining them with (+) sign. Search terms and topics are two available options while entering a keyword. Search term gives the result of all included keywords whereas topic covers a wide range of similar concepts in any language.

In this study, we included “Yoga” and “Meditation” as the main keywords along with “Yogasana” and “Pranayama” as these words have been included in the Ministry of AYUSH's advisory. While searching these terms on GT, we further choose “asana” and “Dhyan” from the related search chart. Related search charts represent the top and rising terms searched in relation to the topic in the same region or category. (+) sign was used to combine all these above terms. These queries were searched within the time frame of January 30, 2020, when the first case reported in India till June 7, 2020.[21] The region selected was India. The data were then downloaded in a.csv file for further analysis.

The data on total number of cases of COVID-19 in India as on June 7, 2020, were obtained from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, GoI.[22] Countrywide lockdown started on March 25, 2020, in India and continued till June 7, 2020 (the day till which data for this study were assessed). Accessed data were cross checked by two different persons independently before analysis so as to check accuracy.

We used SPSS version 25.0 to analyze our data. Search trend analysis through RSV and subregional distribution was reported. The RSV was correlated with total number of cases and total number of deaths due to COVID-19 using Spearman correlation as the data are not normally distributed. Prelockdown volume for RSV was compared with RSV obtained during lockdown using Mann–Whitney U-test.

This study uses secondary data available in public domain with proper acknowledgment. GT data are anonymous and do not give personal identification of any individual, hence eliminating privacy concerns.

  Results Top

The overall search trends for (Yoga + Meditation + Yogasana + Pranayama + Asana + Dhyan) showed a steady rise, with the first peak seen around February 21, 2020, almost a month after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in India [Figure 1]. The trend further declined, with the least RSV observed around March 20, 2020. The trend started gradually rising around March 22, 2020, after countrywide lockdown was imposed. It further kept rising, with the highest peak recorded on May 2, 2020, when the lockdown was further extended in its third phase.
Figure 1: Trends in search volume for yoga and meditation and the number of coronavirus disease 2019 cases

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Trends across different regions in India showed that yoga and meditation were quite popular in most parts of the countries, with Uttarakhand, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, and Karnataka being the top five ranking states/union territory with higher RSV [Figure 2]. However, people of Meghalaya, West Bengal, Bihar, and Nagaland were among the bottom states in terms of RSV and did not show much interest in the topic.
Figure 2: Trends in search volume across Indian states

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The correlation analysis was done between RSV related to terms (Yoga + Meditation + Yogasana + Pranayama + Asana + Dhyan) and daily number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. RSV was also correlated with daily number of deaths due to COVID-19 [Figure 3]. The search trends and daily number of confirmed cases were fairly correlated (r = 0.647, P = 0.000) [Table 1]. The RSV for the search trends was significantly correlated (r = 0.665, P = 0.000) with number of daily deaths due to COVID-19.
Figure 3: Trends in search volume for yoga and meditation and number of deaths

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Table 1: Correlation among relative search volume and total confirmed cases due to coronavirus disease 2019

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In this study, prelockdown phase is from January 30, 2020, to 2020 March 24, followed by lockdown phase in India till the data for the study were extracted. We observed that RSV during lockdown was significantly higher than prelockdown phase with a median of prelockdown 68 (65–71) and during lockdown 89 (85–92). The Mann–Whitney U-test observed a significant increase in RSV during lockdown with U = 82.50, P = 0.000.

  Discussion Top

This study indicated an overall increase in search trend for yoga and meditation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sudden emergence of a pandemic creates chaos and unrest among masses which can be attributed to arising insecurities. These insecurities can range from fear of infection to associated secondary factors such as availability of food and basic necessities for subsistence. The longer the pandemic, the higher will be the consequences which can be seen as a restriction of movement and closure of schools and workplaces. Further, loss of employment opportunities and distance from loved ones also aggravates the mental health problems during pandemic. This isolation has a direct impact on both physical and mental health among all age groups equally, as a result of which people tend to turn toward virtual world in the form of digital media. Digital media has a huge potential in creating positive changes which can be seen by this study.

At the start of COVID-19, the response of public toward yoga and meditation was diminished which gradually increased. By the end of February, there was a sudden rise in search trends as the pandemic drew greater attention of masses. Thereafter, again a lack of perseverance in the search trend was observed which again surged once the number of confirmed positive cases started increasing around the end of March. An increase in the number of confirmed cases might arouse a sense of consciousness about one's own health forcing people to take up healthy life choices. This surge in search volume can also be attributed to imposition of lockdown in the country around that time. The search trends kept increasing, with the highest peak observed in the 1st week of May. The highest peak also corresponds to the time when lockdown was further extended after the first phase. Yoga is said to improve immunity which has a potential to fight infections, a probable reason for people to adopt it to combat uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 infection.[23] A similar study conducted in the United States to investigate population-level interest in telehealth and telemedicine using Google searches during COVID-19 observed that people's interest in telehealth increased with the increase in number of COVID-19 cases.[24]

The search volume for yoga- and meditation-related terms showed a similar increasing trend when compared with the number of deaths due to COVID-19. Around February 21, 2020, the first peak in the search trend for yoga and meditation was observed which is consistent with the findings of a similar study using GT which demonstrated that a second worldwide wave of interest in novel coronavirus started on February 21, 2020, which was six times as big as the first wave.[25] Evidence suggests yoga to be a complementary stress-busting therapy which aided in stress reduction in patients taking radiotherapy for cancer.[26] Deaths in community raise a sense of apprehension and insecurity, a reason for adopting healthy practices among masses. Further, it is evident from this study that people are aware and motivated to take physical as well as mental exercises during isolation at home. One of the probable factors for increase in the trend could be attributed to various awareness campaigns to follow healthy lifestyle during pandemic. A similar study to examine global public awareness of COVID-19 using GT, observed an overall increased awareness during the early period of pandemic across different countries.[27] This study[27] also showed different public awareness levels among various subregions within the country which is also similar to our findings which suggest a varied response related to yoga and meditation across Indian states. It is evident that while most of the western states searched more for yoga-related terms, eastern India showed diminished interests comparatively. Uttarakhand led with the most volume of search while Meghalaya searched least for the terms. Efforts should be made to create awareness in the states which lack in interest; whereas states where the trend in yoga has spiked, all efforts should be made to sustain it even after the pandemic.

The results of our study indicate the positive use of the Internet which has become a major tool to seek health-related content recently. On the contrary, a study done using Google website data revealed that most of the Internet users were obtaining misinformation related to coronavirus health crisis which has a potential risk to public health.[28] Although people tend to be highly dependent on the Internet, it can be a potential source of misinformation, especially in the context of disease outbreaks and pandemics. The country's government should be vigilant in relation to the information being disseminated through the Internet during such crisis. Channels of information must be regulated so that people are not misinformed as it might create panic.

Strengths and limitations

GT gives population-level real-time data over a long duration which itself is a strength of this study, but the data available take into account only those people having access to the Internet and hence may not reflect genuine population interest. This study is also limited by the level of digital literacy among masses of different socioeconomic strata. Although a wide range of keywords were used, it is worth mentioning that few keywords might have been missed leading to underestimation of trends. Furthermore, more data sources like social media can be used to investigate trends in future.

  Conclusion Top

GT showed a substantial rise in population-level interest in yoga and meditation during COVID-19 lockdown which is a positive indicator for population. This increase can not only be attributed to apprehensions and stress due to increase in cases and deaths but also to other factors such as restriction of movement making people home bound, work from home practices, loss of job, and enough idle time to do such activities which were not feasible earlier. However, concurrently, this reflects a healthier lifestyle choice, and calls for continuity of this trend even after the situation becomes normal. These findings can be used by various governmental and nongovernmental organizations working on improving mental health, physical activity, and self-care to further help in sustaining the trends and making people more aware and motivated to adhere to physical and mental exercises when the country is witnessing demographic and epidemiological transition leading to an increase in noncommunicable diseases. Further, this trend needs to be validated through other studies using traditional methods to generate more evidence. In addition, this study also demonstrated the application of infodemiology in predicting the population-level interest and demands during a pandemic which could be explored further.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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