Mindfulness has its roots back in the past. It existed in Daoism since 6th century BCE in terms of qi-gong exercises; since 1500 BCE in the context of yoga; and in Buddhism in 535 BCE in the form of focusing on breathing. Some practices have also been found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religions.
Mindfulness can be seen as founded on vipassana (a form of meditation focusing on bodily sensations) and the training of sati, which means “moment to moment awareness of present events”, but also “remembering to be aware of something. It leads to insight into the true nature of reality,[not in citation given] namely the three marks of existence, the impermanence of and the unsatisfactoriness of every conditioned thing that exists, and non-self. With this insight, the practitioner becomes a so called Sotāpanna, a “stream-enterer”, the first stage on the path to liberation“. Hence, the early practices of mindfulness in Buddhism were aimed at reaching liberation through getting the knowledge about the true nature of reality.
Mindfulness is an antidote to delusion and is considered as a ‘power’ (Pali: bala) which contributes to the attainment of nirvana. This faculty becomes a power in particular when it is coupled with clear comprehension of whatever is taking place. Nirvana is a state of being in which greed, hatred and delusion (Pali: moha) have been overcome and abandoned, and are absent from the mind”.
In the yogic tradition, the term “mindfulness” can refer to the three of the eight Limbs of Yoga in Astanga Yoga described by Patanjali in Patanjali Yoga Sutras. These three limbs are pratyahara, dharna, and dhyana. Pratyahara is described as an internalised meditation, withdrawing all external senses and re-directing attention within. One of the common practices of pratyahara is Yoga Nidra (translated as “yogic sleep”). Dharna is concentration on a single point of focus, e.g. mantra. Dhyana is the state of meditation which comes automatically with regular practice of pratyahara and dharna. It is a state of complete and never-ending mindfulness, when all attention is brought to the present moment and the current of thoughts is ceased.
Interestingly, mindfulness can also be found in many religious traditions. Reciting prayers can be seen as a form of mindfulness practice – it brings the attention back to the present moment and concentrates it on prayer recitation.
Even though the roots of mindfulness date back to early Hinduism and Buddhism (“the term “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali-term sati, which is a significant element of some Buddhist traditions”), the popular western movement of mindfulness was initiated in the 20th century by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a developer of Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) program aimed at helping “people with pain and a range of conditions and life issues that were initially difficult to treat in a hospital setting”, and now widely used by medical centres, health providing institutions, and hospitals around the world.
“In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill. This program sparked the application of mindfulness ideas and practices in Medicine: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”.
National Health Service in UK is progressively using Mindfulness techniques to help conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and others. For more information and helpful everyday mindfulness tips, visit NHS website.
Cancer Research UK also uses mindfulness for relieving cancer symptoms. You can read more on their website.