Mindfulness (Western psychology)

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Mindfulness, in Western psychology, is the process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment,[1][2][3] which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.[2][4][5] The term "mindfulness" is a translation of the Pali term sati,[6] which is a significant element of Buddhist traditions.[7][8] In Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is utilized to develop self-knowledge and wisdom that gradually lead to what is described as enlightenment or the complete freedom from suffering.[7] The application of mindfulness practices within Western medicine and psychology has been influenced by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.

Clinical studies have documented both physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in different patient categories as well as in healthy adults and children.[3][9][10] Programs based on Kabat-Zinn's and similar models have been widely adopted in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans' centers, and other environments, and mindfulness programs have been applied for additional outcomes such as for healthy aging, weight management, athletic performance, for children with special needs, and as an intervention during the perinatal period. The necessity for more high-quality research in this field has also been identified – such as the need for more randomized controlled studies, for providing more methodological details in reported studies and for the use of larger sample sizes.[3][11]

Jon Kabat-Zinn and MBSR

In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill.[12] This program sparked the application of mindfulness ideas and practices in Medicine[13]:230–1 for the treatment of a variety of conditions in both healthy and unhealthy people. MBSR and similar programs are now widely applied in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and other environments.

Mindfulness practices were inspired mainly by teachings from the Eastern World, particularly from Buddhist traditions. One of MBSR's techniques - the "body scan" - was derived from a meditation practice ("sweeping") of the Burmese U Ba Khin tradition, as taught by S. N. Goenka in his Vipassana retreats, which he began in 1976. It has since been widely adapted in secular settings, independent of religious or cultural contexts.[note 1][note 2]


  1. "Historically a Buddhist practice, mindfulness can be considered a universal human capacity proposed to foster clear thinking and open-heartedness. As such, this form of meditation requires no particular religious or cultural belief system." - Mindfulness in Medicine by Ludwig and Kabat-Zinn, available at jama.ama-assn.org
  2. "Kabat-Zinn (2000) suggests that mindfulness practice may be beneficial to many people in Western society who might be unwilling to adopt Buddhist traditions or vocabulary. Thus, Western researchers and clinicians who have introduced mindfulness practice into mental health treatment programs usually teach these skills independently of the religious and cultural traditions of their origins (Kabat-Zinn, 1982;Linehan, 1993b)." - Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review by Ruth A. Baer


  1. Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review, by Ruth A. Baer, available at http://www.wisebrain.org/papers/MindfulnessPsyTx.pdf
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kabat-Zinn, J (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Bantam Dell. ISBN 978-0-345-53972-4. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Creswell J.D. (2017). "Mindfulness Interventions". Annual Review of Psychology. 68. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-042716-051139. 
  4. Lutz, Antoine; Davidson, Richard J; Slagter, Heleen A (2011). "Mental Training as a Tool in the Neuroscientific Study of Brain and Cognitive Plasticity". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 5. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2011.00017. 
  5. Pagnini, Francesco; Philips, Deborah (2015). "Being mindful about mindfulness". The Lancet Psychiatry. 2 (4): 288–9. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(15)00041-3. PMID 26360065. 
  6. "Sati". The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary. Digital Dictionaries of South Asia, University of Chicago. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Karunamuni, Nandini; Weerasekera, Rasanjala (2017). "Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom". Current Psychology. doi:10.1007/s12144-017-9631-7. 
  8. Van Gordon, William; Shonin, Edo; Griffiths, Mark D; Singh, Nirbhay N (2014). "There is Only One Mindfulness: Why Science and Buddhism Need to Work Together". Mindfulness. 6: 49–56. doi:10.1007/s12671-014-0379-y. 
  9. Gotink, Rinske A; Chu, Paula; Busschbach, Jan J. V; Benson, Herbert; Fricchione, Gregory L; Hunink, M. G. Myriam (2015). "Standardised Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Healthcare: An Overview of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses of RCTs". PLOS ONE. 10 (4): e0124344. Bibcode:2015PLoSO..1024344G. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124344. PMC 4400080Freely accessible. PMID 25881019. 
  10. Paulus, Martin P (2016). "Neural Basis of Mindfulness Interventions that Moderate the Impact of Stress on the Brain". Neuropsychopharmacology. 41 (1): 373. doi:10.1038/npp.2015.239. PMC 4677133Freely accessible. PMID 26657952. 
  11. Keng, Shian-Ling; Smoski, Moria J; Robins, Clive J (2011). "Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies". Clinical Psychology Review. 31 (6): 1041–56. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006. PMC 3679190Freely accessible. PMID 21802619. 
  12. "The Stress Reduction Program, founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979..." - http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/stress/index.aspx
  13. "Much of the interest in the clinical applications of mindfulness has been sparked by the introduction of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a manualized treatment program originally developed for the management of chronic pain (Kabat-Zinn, 1982; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, & Burney, 1985; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, Burney, & Sellers, 1987)." - Bishop et al, 2004, "Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition"

Further reading

  • Didonna, Fabrizio (2008), Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness, Springer Science & Business Media 
  • Amanda Ie, Christelle T. Ngnoumen, Ellen J. Langer (2014), The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness (Two Volumes), John Wiley & Sons
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Hyperion Books, 2005. ISBN 1-4013-0778-7
  • Wilson, Jeff (2014), Mindful America: Meditation and the Mutual Transformation of Buddhism and American Culture, Oxford University Press 
  • McMahan, David L. (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195183276 
  • Sharf, Robert (1995). "Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience". Numen. 42 (3): 228–83. doi:10.1163/1568527952598549. JSTOR 3270219. 
  • Carrette, Jeremy R.; King, Richard (2005), Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, Psychology Press 
  • Kabat-Zinn, Jon; Williams, Mark (2013), Mindfulness - Diverse perspectives on its meanings, origins and applications (Routledge)

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