Where does Mindfulness come from?
The origins of Mindfulness lie in Buddhism, but the Buddhist teachings were adapted and secularised 40 years ago by an American, Jon Kabat-Zinn – a molecular biologist, who also practised meditation. Kabat-Zinn’s first studies showed that Mindfulness helped those with chronic pain.
Reference: Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., Burncy, R., & Sellers, W. (1986) ‘Four-year follow-up of a meditation-based program for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Treatment outcomes and compliance’. The Clincial Journal of Pain. 2 (3), p 159.
Kabat-Zinn then developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme – an 8 week programme of weekly sessions in which he taught a range of Mindfulness exercises – breath, body and thought aware. Several studies have shown that the MBSR programme significally reduces stress.
Reference: Kabat-Zinn, J., (2001) Full Catastrophe Living. Piatkus.
Following on from Kabat-Zinn’s work in USA, John Teasdale and Mark Williams from Cambridge University and Zindel Segal from Toronto, developed Mindfulness for their work with depression and Williams, Teasdale and Segal adapted Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR programme to focus on people with depression. This programme, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), retained all the main elements of MBSR, but incorporated some aspects of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and addressed the problems of ‘negative thinking’ and rumination, which are often symptoms of depression. Williams, Teasdale and Segal conducted a three centre trial in Bangor (Williams), Cambridge (Teasdale) and Toronto (Segal). Results of the trial showed that those who attended an 8 week course of Mindfulness were less likely to suffer a relapse of their depression than those who received conventional management. Moreover, those who attended the Mindfulness sessions maintained their improvement for a year after the study. A second trial in 2004 showed even better results and consequently MBCT received endorsement from National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK, which recommended that Mindfulness should be offered on the NHS as a treatment for people who have suffered two or more episodes of depression.
References: Segal, Z. V.,Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale.J. D., Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: a new approach to preventing relapse (Guildford Press, 2002); Williams, J. M. G.,Teasdale, J.D., & Kabat-Zinn, J., The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (Guildford Press, 2007).
Mindfulness continues to evolve and is now found in education, taught in many schools; in the corporate world of business organisations, as well as in various health care settings.