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The origins of mindfulness and how it’s used today

The origins of mindfulness can be traced back to The Buddha who lived over 2,500 years ago. Mindfulness is the 7th step in the path to enlightenment and is important to Buddhist traditions. However, mindfulness as we now know it today is secular and is usually taught free from religious connotations.

A Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh first brought mindfulness to the West. Jon Kabatt-Zinn, an American scientist heard Hahn speak about the concepts in the USA in 1979. He saw the wider applications of this method in the management of chronic conditions, especially pain. He soon began to adapt the teachings from Hanh to develop the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR). Following this he worked on a 10 year project at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. This helped to establish MBSR as an integral part of many mindfulness programmes.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

The usability of MBSR has led to the growth of mindfulness around the world. In 2004 Kabatt-Zinn worked with the Bangor University and psychologist, Mark Williams. This was then introduced to mental health professionals in the UK. Williams was appointed as a Professor at Oxford University and began to work on adding some cognitive elements. This created the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive programme (MBCT) specially for people with depression. NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) approved mindfulness as a treatment for people with depression, further confirming the effectiveness of mindfulness.

As mental health professionals saw the benefits of mindfulness in their practices, some added cognitive behavioural teaching. This focused on stress and depression which led to the rise of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Teaching).

The growth of mindfulness

With the advancement of technology, many people have taken mindfulness training online. The rise of app-based mindfulness therapies grew with the launch of Headspace and Calm. Headspace is said to have two million paid subscribers in 190 countries. British Airways introduced the Headspace programme to its inflight entertainment system and Google launched mindfulness courses for its employees.

As mindfulness went mainstream, this saw the publication of numerous books, magazines and the term is used (and misused). This is especially true in beauty and wellness marketing, all of which led to a backlash in the media. This misrepresentation doesn’t account for the positive programmes including Mindfulness in Schools and Workplace Wellbeing.

As self-compassion and compassion is incorporated into mindfulness practice, this enables more depth and substance for participants. I believe that post-pandemic mindfulness will be introduced into all workplace wellbeing programmes. I hope that this becomes part of a wider health campaign by the government to support people’s mental wellness.

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