History of Mindfulness and Psychology
- Shauna ShapiroShauna ShapiroSanta Clara University, School of Education and Counseling Psychology
- and Elli WeisbaumElli WeisbaumUniversity of Toronto, Institute of Medical Science
Mindfulness practice and protocols—often referred to as mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs)—have become increasingly popular in every sector of society, including healthcare, education, business, and government. Due to this exponential growth, thoughtful reflection is needed to understand the implications of, and interactions between, the historical context of mindfulness (insights and traditions that have been cultivated over the past 25 centuries) and its recent history (the adaptation and applications within healthcare, therapeutic and modern culture, primarily since the 1980s).
Research has shown that MBIs have significant health benefits including decreased stress, insomnia, anxiety, and panic, along with enhancing personal well-being, perceptual sensitivity, processing speed, empathy, concentration, reaction time, motor skills, and cognitive performance including short- and long-term memory recall and academic performance. As with any adaptation, skillful decisions have to be made about what is included and excluded. Concerns and critiques have been raised by clinicians, researchers, and Buddhist scholars about the potential impact that the decontextualization of mindfulness from its original roots may have on the efficacy, content, focus, and delivery of MBIs. By honoring and reflecting on the insights, intentions, and work from both historical and contemporary perspectives of mindfulness, the field can support the continued development of effective, applicable, and accessible interventions and programs.