Where did mindfulness come from? Why is it so popular?
At some of the seminars I run, I often get asked these two questions – Where does mindfulness come from? And why is it so popular?
So I thought I’d answer in this blog.
My personal experience with mindfulness training initially was from a Buddhist and a Taoist system with a long-term practice of Taichi and meditation which I started well over 25 years ago, as well as immersing myself in various Buddhist monasteries around the Himalaya.
More recently I’ve trained in more ‘modern’ mindfulness techniques in universities, institutions and with psychologists and other medical professionals, so it’s really interesting to see the rise of popularity for mindfulness training in todays society.
Modern mindfulness has penetrated Western Culture with everyone from sporting teams, corporate companies, schools and actors citing it as a valuable tool for their success. But where did mindfulness originally come from?
Religion and mindfulness
Mindfulness has a history stemming from various religions and traditions including Hinduism, Buddhism, yoga and meditation practices. All have had similar goals in training your attention and calming the mind. At its essence, mindfulness means paying attention, on purpose to the present moment, with underlying qualities like compassion, curiosity and acceptance. This promotes an enjoyable way of living by focussing on the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
Typically, people associate mindfulness with Buddhism but some commentators argue that the history of mindfulness should not be reduced to Buddhism with mindfulness having some roots in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. It’s clear that many religions have an aspect of mindfulness and it is widely accepted that Hinduism and Buddhism are the two religions in which mindfulness as we know it in the Western world has stemmed from:
Mindfulness practice forms an integral part of Buddhist teachings since around 400-500 B.C.E. The Buddha himself referred to it as “the path to enlightenment.” And so in the 2,600 years since then, many who’ve followed in the Buddha’s footsteps have upheld his mindfulness teachings and practices. In the Buddhist context, mindfulness meditation has three integrated purposes- knowing the mind, training the mind and freeing the mind.
How does mindfulness relate to yoga?
It is the ‘unity’ of body, mind and breath that connect both yoga and mindfulness, in fact the word ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit actually translates to ‘unity’.
Mindfulness and yoga have many cross-overs especially in regards to body awareness. In yoga we use the body to connect with ourselves and similarly we may use the ‘body scan’ practice of mindfulness to become aware of the sensations present in the body. When we pay attention to our body through the ‘asana’ (postures) we use it as a tool to become present.
How mindfulness went from east to west
One of the most prominent influences in bringing mindfulness from the East to the West is Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor from the University of Massachusetts who introduced mindfulness to his therapy programs around 1979. These include Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and other clinical mindfulness programs. Since then his programs have run worldwide in 1000’s of clinics, hospitals and institutions. As you can see these days mindfulness seems to be everywhere you look.
But why is it so popular?
I believe the main reason it is so popular today is we actually need it in this overstimulated, turbo-driven society we live in. We need a tool, like mindfulness, to slow down and become present with ourselves. Here are some other reasons
It is evidence-based, modern mindfulness is the most researched form of meditation in history
Any age can practice it, from young children to elderly
It is not religious- regardless of race, religion, gender anybody can practice mindfulness
It is low cost, compared to other health care costs
I encourage you to give mindfulness a try.