The transformative benefits of mindfulness have only recently become recognized within numerous facets of society, from the office to the operating room and beyond. By broadening our conscious awareness, we are able to evoke a variety of therapeutic sensations that can enhance our focus levels, emotional states, and decision making skills when under pressure.
Today, the practice has become recognized as a popular coping mechanism for anxiety, stress, and depression — and as a significant impacting force on decision making in complex or potentially stressful environments . In recent decades, for example, mindfulness techniques have become increasingly prominent in mainstream clinical practice — a concept I have explored at length in past articles.
Still, though, these recent surges in interest are but one chapter in the practice’s long history of expansion; it has deep roots in ancient religious teachings dating back thousands of years, and its growth has intersected the separate evolutions of psychology, science, and philosophy.
The origins of mindfulness are typically traced to a number of religions and secular traditions; the most common of which are Buddhism and Hinduism, though some suggest the practice also is rooted in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Generally speaking, mindfulness was born through religious and spiritual institutions in the east, and its association with the former two religions comes as a result of its alignment with their most vital characteristics and teachings. For example, mindfulness is historically considered the first step towards enlightenment in Buddhism (in which it is referred to as Sati); it is also alluded to in the Bhagavad Gita’s discussions on yoga and meditation.
Eventually, mindfulness made its way into western culture, with Jon Kabat-Zinn standing as a primary trailblazer for the practice’s international migration. Kabat-Zinn founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, where he subsequently developed his own mindfulness program: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This program helped catalyze a broader discussion on mindfulness, bringing about contemporary institutions including, but not limited to, the Insight Meditation Society and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.
Today, mindfulness maintains a prominent role in positive psychology, aiding in our ability to absorb and cope with stressful, traumatic, and otherwise uncomfortable environmental factors — both at work and in personal ventures. Perhaps the most fascinating notion is that, though mindfulness remains a major focal point within psychological study in a variety of capacities, its most basic principles continue to reflect its deep ideological lineage with little change.