The Roots of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that I was introduced to about ten years back and since that impressionable introduction, my life has shifted in the most positive of ways.

Mindfulness is now a daily practice for me - something I live and breathe in my work, in relationship with others and in my being as a person. As I work with clients to incorporate more mindfulness into their interactions with daily life, their work and their relationship with others, I share with them a brief overview of the history of mindfulness and how its ancient roots traveled to the west. Doing this seems to give my clients a good anchor to the foundations of this beneficial practice and deepens their personal connection to the ancient teachings and their own mindfulness practice.

In this blog I’ll briefly cover the history of mindfulness in hopes to help you gain a baseline understanding of where this sacred practice came from to help you grow in closer awareness/knowledge about this beneficial way of living/working.

A Brief History of Mindfulness

Most modern western practitioners and teachers of mindfulness learned about mindfulness in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Although you can also find origins of mindfulness in other world religions like Judaism, Christianity, and IslamBut with heavy teachings in both Hinduism and Buddhism, it was Buddhism that recognized mindfulness (Sati) as a crucial aspect in their religion and was it was considered the first step toward enlightenment.

Although mindfulness roots were seeded and grew within Buddhist and Hindu traditions, mindfulness and the meaning of it, slowly became freed from any religious or dogmatic content. In a way, mindfulness took on its own identify because of the extensive depth and breadth of its universal application to healthy and optimal living. Mindfulness became the bedrock of other holistic living ideologies/practices like yoga and meditation.

John Kabat-Zinn is one of the most well-known influencers of mindfulness in the west. John initially studied under Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (and others) and came back to the west and founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Training (MBSR) in 1979. The central focus of the MBSR Program is intensive training in mindfulness meditation and its integration into the challenges/adventures of everyday life. 

People like John Kabat Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Joseph Goldstein helped to bring mindfulness to the west in both clinical and non-clinical groups and experienced tremendous positive effects in regards to stress, chronic pain, chronic illness, psychological and emotional challenges such as anxiety and depression and/or wellness and preventative healthcare. 

Over the years, academics have started to pay more attention to the practice of mindfulness, turning up the dial in mindfulness research. The impacts/benefits of mindfulness that have been published in academic journals to date is pretty clear and unanimous – mindfulness helps people to access heightened states of inner well-being and performance.

Mindfulness is truly a very simple concept but for a lot of westerners, it can be a challenging practice to integrate at first. Why? Because Mindfulness tends to contrast the early conditioning a lot of us received around how to think, behave and respond to people and the world we live in.

Unlike the Buddhist/Hindu traditions, most of us in the west were not taught at an early age about the practice of mindfulness or its value. Most of us were not taught how to tune into our breath, our body, our emotions and our thoughts for information and a means of self regulation and healing. Most of us were not taught how to use the present moment and our breath as a vehicle to radical self acceptance and acceptance of others.

But…

It’s never too late to start a personal mindfulness practice. As we open our minds and hearts to this ancient and wise life teaching and learn how to embody the principals and ideologies of mindfulness, we will start to experience the profound benefits within our inner and outer world.

Ashley Boyd