The History of Mindfulness & Meditation

Mindfulness is quickly gaining traction in mainstream Western culture. However, it’s not a new discover. That is to say, people have been enjoying the benefits of mindfulness for thousands of years.

Eastern Beginnings

Almost 4,000 years ago, Mindfulness likely originated as part of Hinduism. During the same time, the teachings of yoga were developed in the Veda, sacred texts used by priests in the practice of Hinduism. Later, yoga was further developed into separate practices. This aimed to help practitioners achieve enlightenment. These include karma yoga, jnana yoga, and what’s commonly practiced today, hatha yoga. Clearly, both yoga and Hinduism encourage mindfulness. Hence, another piece of the puzzle lies in Buddhism. 

Buddhism  and Mindfulness are tightly intertwined. Sati, the Buddhist concept of self-awareness, is the first step towards enlightenment. Although Buddhism does not use the sacred Veda texts, Buddhism and Hinduism both center around the journey to enlightenment. This is a process that’s believed in both religions to be propelled by mindfulness. 

Mindfulness in Western Culture

In the early 20th century, knowledge of yoga began to spread in the West, albeit slowly at first. In 1947, a pioneer in hatha yoga opened a studio in Hollywood. Indra Devi’s yoga studio helped propel the Western practice of yoga (and consequently, mindfulness) into the latter half of the century.

Sophrology

Developed in the 1960’s by a neurologist who also had expertise in psychiatry, sophrology is an interesting branch on the mindfulness tree. Like mindfulness, sophrology teaches awareness of the present moment. However, it differs from general mindfulness on its emphasis on tuning in to the body in order to achieve goals. By really getting comfortable with the sensations of any given moment, you can begin to train your body and mind to let go of unwanted emotions. Several studies have demonstrated that the positive effects of mindfulness are evidenced through neuroplastic changes in participants’ brains. As a result, when you practice mindfulness with an aim to cultivate resilience, you’re actually altering pathways in your brain.

People use sophrology for a variety of reasons. Athletes find that it helps them perform better during competitions. Public speakers can use it to reduce stage fright. You might find that it helps you stay calm on hectic days at work. It can even help you find your purpose.

Thich Nhat Hanh

 Through the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness took hold in Western culture largely. The Vietnamese spiritual leader was born in 1926. He has worked tirelessly to promote the renewal of Vietnamese Buddhism. His efforts in the US and Europe to call for an end to the Vietnam war led to the founding of what is now the most active Buddhist monastery in the West. Today, Thich Nhat Hanh is a bestselling author with over 100 published works.

Positive Psychology

Mindfulness and positive psychology are not the same. However, they go hand-in-hand. Positive psychology offers a counterweight to the traditional focuses of psychology. Instead of centering around trauma, illness, and learned helplessness, positive psychology seeks to promote optimism. It is by teaching people to appreciate the power of perspective. Mindfulness is at the core of perspective. To put yourself in someone else’s shoes; to feel gratitude; and to build rapport all require an awareness of yourself and your environment.

Mindfulness and You

When we look at its history, it’s easy to see why people have been practicing mindfulness for millennia. Perhaps more so now than ever, mindfulness can benefit your life, in both work and life. Our busy lifestyles lead to stress, burnout, and mindfulness aims to bring out the best in everything. There is even science behind it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *