History of mindfulness

History of Mindfulness

Although mindfulness has experienced as surge of popularity in recent years, it is certainly not a new practice. In fact, people have been practicing for thousands of years. Mindfulness is a practice involved in various religious and secular traditions, from Hinduism and Buddhism to yoga and, more recently, non-religious meditation.

The secular tradition of mindfulness in the West owes its roots to Eastern contemplative practices

Mindfulness meditation is a core aspect of early Buddhist meditative traditions that originated over 2,500 years ago. Mindfulness is one of a number of virtues or qualities whose cultivation is presented as fundamental to the Buddhist path to “enlightenment” .

Within those traditions, greed, hatred and unawareness which are considered to be the roots of all suffering, anxiety and discontentment. Mindfulness was viewed as a practice for attaining peace and freedom from such suffering.

(Selva, 2018)

Mindfulness is a core aspect of Buddhist practice. While mindfulness can be practiced quite well without Buddhism, Buddhism cannot be practiced without mindfulness.

In Buddhist teachings, mindfulness meditation has three overarching purposes: knowing the mind, training the mind and freeing the mind.

(Fronsdale, 2006)

Mindfulness is an English translation of the Pali word 'Sati', which connotes awareness, attention and remembering.

Pali is the language in which the teachings of the Buddha were originally recorded.

The first dictionary translation of 'Sati' into “mindfulness" dates to 1921.

(Siegel, Germer & Olendzki, 2016)

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

In 1979 Jon, Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist with a long standing personal meditation practice developed mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) as a way to introduce these contemplative practices into health care.

He designed his eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program to help people who lived with stress, pain and illness.

(Siegel, Germer & Olendzki, 2016)

Kabat-Zinn had a long-standing personal meditation and mindfulness practice having learned and studied under several Buddhist teachers.

Kabat-Zinn integrated this Eastern foundation in mindfulness with Western science to develop MBSR. This integration was a crucial aspect in helping mindfulness gain widespread popularity in the West.

(Selva, 2018)

Please watch "The History of MBSR and Science behind Mindfulness" from John Kabat-Zinn:


Throughout the past few decades, this program has been extensively researched and there is an ever increasing volume of evidence-based research shows it to be highly effective in helping people with a variety of difficulties.

To date MBSR programs are offered in 450 medical centers in the US and can be found on every continent.

(Stahl, Meleo & Koerbel, 2014).

Mindfulness in Psychotherapy

Mindfulness has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in the past decade, both in the popular press and in scientific literature.

This popularity is largely due to the success of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs and the central role of mindfulness in dialectical behavior therapy, as well as acceptance and commitment therapy.

Mindfulness has transitioned from a largely obscure Buddhist concept to a mainstream psycho therapeutic intervention. 

(Davis & Hayes, 2011)

Mindfulness based techniques have a significant role in a new generation of psycho therapeutic interventions.

Such therapies include Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT).

Over the past thirty years, mindfulness-based therapies have rapidly grown more popular, with over 17,000 participants graduating from over 200 MBSR centers in the US

(Gordon, 2009)

The growing popularity of mindfulness

The current widespread theoretical and scientific interest in mindfulness is particularly remarkable when seen in historical context of psychology, psychiatry, and related disciplines.

Psychological science has conventionally focused on the contents of consciousness (e.g., cognitions and emotions), in contrast, mindfulness fundamentally focuses on consciousness itself.

One testament to the increasing interest in mindfulness is the substantial growth in research papers and books on the topic.

Publications and scientific papers containing the term mindfulness were few through to the 1980s and 1990s but have increased exponentially over time since the early 2000s. There are now over 60,000 papers published on the topic.

(Brown, Creswell & Ryan, 2014)

Mindfulness teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Joseph Goldstein have also played a crucial role in bringing mindfulness to the West when they founded the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in 1975.

The IMS helped introduce mindfulness meditation to the West, and the combination of mindfulness meditation and MBSR helped popularize mindfulness in the West within both clinical and non-clinical populations.

(Selva, 2018)

Complete and Continue