The History of Mindfulness

The History of Mindfulness


It’s been practiced for thousands of years, with origins in Eastern philosophy, and over the past 40 years, it has been taken up in western societies.

Mindfulness has its origins in ancient meditation practices. The founder of modern day Mindfulness is Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the late 1970’s. Since then over 18,000 people have completed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme to help with conditions as diverse as chronic pain, heart disease, anxiety, psoriosis, sleep problems and depression.

In the 1990’s Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Seagal further developed MBSR to help people suffering from depression. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combined CBT with Mindfulness. MBCT is clinically approved in the UK by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a “treatment of choice” for recurrent depression.

The history of mindfulness can be traced back throughout religion and the historical practice of mindfulness has been found in all over the world.

It began in 1500 BCE in Hinduism under the context of yoga, Daoism since 6th c. BCE in qì gong exercise, and Buddhism in 535 BCE in terms of focusing on breathing. It was also found in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish practice. Now, mindfulness has been commonly used in clinical psychology with personality disorders, depression, anxiety, and pain (“Brief History of Mindfulness,” 2011).

Mindfulness was studied to see its effectiveness on cognition, emotion, and restlessness (Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, 2015).

In fact, psychologists’ interest grew when the Stress Reduction Clinic began to provide evidence of the role meditation plays on emotion regulation. More research was conducted and soon it became one of the main techniques used by practitioners to help clients reach metacognitive awareness: the awareness of the thought process.

The result from using Mindfulness, in either a scientific or religious form, is calmness. Both forms help you deal with emotional aspects, restless thoughts, and it makes you a more aware and compassionate person in return. Buddhist mindfulness practice, however, also promises you with more wisdom (“Brief History of Mindfulness,” 2011).


Ancient roots, modern applications

The cultivation of mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, but most religions include some type of prayer or meditation technique that helps shift your thoughts away from your usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment and a larger perspective on life.

Professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health attitudes and behaviours.