In one of my previous articles, I mentioned that as a Professional coach, my particular offering lay in the line of behavioral coaching–which I learned through world’s former number one Leadership thinker, trainer and coach, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder centered coaching program based in South Korea– and mindfulness. To add, my best-selling book, Pull of Your Soul, is based on mindfulness, a subject I have been reading and writing about since past two decades. So, let me, through this article help explain the origins, concepts, practices, trends and the use of mindfulness. Let me first start by asserting that I am confident you must have been hearing a lot about this subject–mindfulness–of late, and how it has become a common term, a household name, and practice. Everyone from business professionals to doctors, lawyers, teachers are employing it in their day-to-day lives. And obviously for good effects. Schools, Universities–Medical, Business, law among them–The World over have adopted the teachings and incorporated them into their regular curriculum. Meditation and mindfulness are no longer a “woo woo” thing. Or so the recent trends have proved. 

But one wonders where the movement started and got popularized. So, let me again start by defining mindfulness. Simply, mindfulness is assuming a way of life where “one lives in the present moment”. In it, the belief is that “when we don’t repent the past or grope in future, we are fully present and aware, fully alive if you will”. So, the definition underpins the notion that in today’s fast-changing and fast-paced World, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. We’d rather flip pages of our screens constantly and ceaselessly–(whatever that screen be) be it a laptop’s screen or a television’s or an e-readers or books’ pages…–and swift  our gazes in conversations constantly than be fully present: meaning we’re not even fully present at conversations, in communicating with our friends and families that are. Such is the sense of attention that we hold these days! 

How and where did the mindfulness movement start?

In East, our religions–Hinduism and Buddhism–are steeped in cultures and philosophies that are centered around mindfulness. The practice and philosophy aren’t necessarily called mindfulness.  Even in Hinduism’s epic text, THE BHAGAVAD GITA, Lord Krishna talks about the importance of practicing yoga and meditation to lead a balanced and happy life. MOREOVER, there have been millions and millions of saints, seers and sages in India, Nepal, and when it comes to Buddhist saints, scholars and followers, in other Nations like Japan, China, Thailand, etc. where they have assumed and embraced a life devoted to the practice of “living in the present moment”, “living the virtues” based on Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. In Nepal we had Khaptad Swami–a Surgeon turned Saint–and in India great sages and saints like, Maharajji, Ramana Maharshi, Paramhansa Yogananda, Yogmaya, to name  a few, and from Buddhist traditions Marpa, Milarepa, Asita, and most notably Padmashambhava–these latter scholars were part-Saints, part-teachers and often, some of them, an incarnate, a Buddha incarnate–who helped propel the teachings centered around what people today, particularly in the West–call “mindfulness”. The concepts and philosophies are steeped in Hindu and Buddha traditions. In these traditions and cultures, it–mindfulness–is a way of life. So, even though you don’t reiterate the word  mindfulness, embracing and reading the prevalent scriptures in these religions help one assumes a life of balance, virtue, and bliss:  formalizing the concepts as “mindfulness” (for a Western audience and readers or followers) is something that has gained Universal appeal and liking, though, in these Nations, the emphasis is on the practice of meditation and mindfulness, and not religion itself. 

Talking of how the concepts gained its origins and movement in the West, one American scholar, and writer, Dr. Jon Kabatt Zinn’s name comes to mind. Close to four decades earlier, he introduced the concept of mindfulness to an American audience through his writings and teachings. He didn’t just introduce the concepts, but he created a customized program based on the principles that he learned from Buddhism. The result: The teachings were introduced as “Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)” program at University of Massachusetts Medical School. Today MBSR has been incorporated in countless other medical and business school curriculums Worldover and have found thousands of trainees World over. The impact of Dr. Zinn’s work has been such that not just his works but the concept of “mindfulness” itself has become a household name and is now employed Worldover…in different forms–all works created to help trainees, leaders, students and commoners more balanced and peaceful (and yes productive) lives. Many Universities in the World like the University of Massachusetts, and Lesley University in U.S, University of Oxford, Cambridge University and the University of Exeter in U.K  have their own customized and curriculum- based education and pieces of training in mindfulness. Likewise,  Monash University in Australia has been a World leader in research based mindfulness education.  Also, Lesley University in U.S have graduate level courses in Mindfulness, and there are much more.

Dr. Richard Albert, a Harvard Professor of Psychologist-turned-Saint or Guru, brought the concepts of mindfulness from India. He learned the teachings from his Guru, Maharajji–who, a Lord Hanuman devotee himself, taught through leading a life of “virtues and principles based on Hinduism”. Dr. Alpert later turned into a saint and was known as Ramdass–a name he received through Maharajji. Ramdass popularized the concepts of mindfulness through his books–most notably, BE HERE NOW, a book, a classic in the field,  published in the 60s that alone helped promulgate the teachings in America and World…–and his satsangs or teachings, that till date he’s engaged in. 

Again, Dr. Robert Thurman, a Buddhist scholar (and father to the Hollywood Actress, Uma Thurman) and writer has made similar and significant contributions in popularizing the Buddhist teachings and principles…He is a highly influential figure who’s had a significant impact in propagating Buddhism to the West. 

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

The benefits–again based on research–are manifold:

1) less stress
b)ability to cope with or handle stress well–consequently lesser incidences of Clinical depression and anxiety. (In fact, today many Psychiatrists, trained in mindfulness techniques, employ psychological treatment approaches centered around mindfulness.)
c) improved mental or cognitive functioning, memory power etc
d) good and restful sleep
e) improved intellectual performance
f)stabilization of blood pressure 
g) Proper functioning of Endocrine glands and proper functioning of hormones (it particularly means less undue release of “stress hormones” like cortisols and catecholamines–an excess of these hormones are ascribed to many chronic health conditions like Diabetes, arthritis, many heart ailments). 
h) prolongation of life itself through elongation of the part of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres are an integral part of DNA that deals with aging. 

There are many other benefits of mindfulness which is beyond the scope of this little article. Overall, learning to feel our body or emotions or thoughts; appreciating the sensations, watching or observing our mind, the mental turbulence, helping our thoughts settle…; embracing empathy and compassion are essential components of mindfulness teachings. 

Dr. Ujjwal Bikram Khadka, Professional Coach, a best-selling children’s author and author of Amazon best-seller, Pull of Your Soul.