The History of Mindfulness in North America

The history of mindfulness is rooted in several ancient religions and practices, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. But how did it find its way to the West? Buddhism is an especially difficult case, since it is a religion that has no theological doctrines of God and focuses on transformation in this life and rebirth in the next. In the West, however, Buddhism is primarily associated with health psychology. However, there are many similarities between these cultures and the history of mindfulness.


The history of mindfulness traces its roots in early Buddhism. The teachings of Buddha were adapted for Western culture by Professor of Medicine, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic in Massachusetts in 1979. Kabat-Zinn’s program was originally called the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program and was later renamed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Although he made no explicit reference to Buddhism, his work was widely regarded as being scientific, which is a fact of its own.

Westerners became interested in the Eastern philosophy in the late nineteenth century, but Western meditation did not become widely practiced until the mid-20th century. At this time, renowned eastern meditation masters began to visit the West to share their techniques with western students. In response to this interest, many Western students began traveling to Asia to train under the greatest masters. But how did mindfulness come to be so widely accepted? By following a few key milestones, it has come a long way from its early days as a niche practice.


While Buddhism and mindfulness are both known for its meditative practices, Hinduism has a long and interesting history. Hindu scripture contains references to meditation, acceptance, and silence. This ancient religion predates both Buddhism and Christianity by several millennia. Its founding scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, discusses these practices. In fact, Buddhist meditation is based on Hinduism. Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, grew up in India and his education was influenced by Hinduism.

The Bhagavad Gita is found in large libraries throughout the United States. In addition to its Hindu roots, Buddhism has embraced Hindu meditation practices. The Upanishads, the ancient Hindu scriptures, are replete with references to meditation, silence, and acceptance. Various Hindu teachers have promoted these practices, which are based on the same principles. The practice of mindfulness involves sitting calmly in the present moment without focusing on the past or future.

Tibetan Buddhism

The transmission of Buddhist teachings to Tibet originated with late Indian Buddhism. During the eighth to thirteenth centuries, interactions among different traditions in India were at their height. By the fourteenth century, Buddhism had almost disappeared from its native India due to invasions, institutional competition, and scarcity of resources. After that, Tibet became the center of Buddhism in central Asia, and it spread to neighboring countries. The history of Tibetan Buddhism is therefore rich in history, myth, and philosophy.

Buddhist teachings generally present meditation as a therapeutic impulse to resolve the dissatisfaction with embodied existence. The practice has three main phases, beginning with the study of Buddhist doctrine and culminating in the integration of concepts into a person’s experience. “Giving and taking” meditation involves the meditator regulating his or her breathing and his relationship to all other beings. In the first stage, the meditator is in a state of awareness during which he or she experiences a connection between two contrasting realms, the two worlds.

Western health psychology

This article surveys the development of both mindfulness and health psychology in North America, where both practices have flourished. It explores the relationship between health psychology and mindfulness, examining how it has shaped cultural understandings of health, and the direction taken by health service provision in markets and social systems. It also explores the role of social psychology in the history of health and wellness. While these two fields have many commonalities, a number of differences remain.

The most influential figure in the history of mindfulness in the West is Jon Kabat-Zinn, who was introduced to meditation by a Zen missionary at MIT. He studied at the Insight Meditation Center and Providence Zen Center, and drew from other traditions to influence his teaching of mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn founded the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s stress reduction center and developed his famous course, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.


  • James Quinto

    James is a content creator who works in the personal development niche. Quinto James

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About the Author: James Quinto

James is a content creator who works in the personal development niche.