Who exactly is Jon Kabat-Zinn? Arlo Laibowitz tells us more about the father of mindfulness in the Western world and the creator of the MBSR course.


Jon Kabat-Zinn (New York, 1944) is widely considered to be one of the founders of transforming Eastern religious mindfulness practices into methods for Western audiences. Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine of the University of Massachusetts, and the creator of the well-known and widely respected Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.


Jon Kabat-Zinn: background, education and career

Jon Kabat-Zinn was born in New York City in 1944. The youngest of nine children, his father Elvin Kabat was a biomedical scientist, while his mother Sally Kabat worked as a painter.

After graduating from Haverford College, Kabat-Zinn went on to earn a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was while studying here that he was introduced to meditation by Zen missionary Philip Kapleau.

Afterwards, he studied with Thích Nhất Hạnh and Seung Sahn, and at the Insight Meditation Society, founded by Sharon Salzburg, Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein. In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It was there that he adapted Buddhist teachings on mindfulness into the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program, that he later renamed into the eight-week course, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

Jon Kabat-Zinn © flickr.com/UW Health

Afterwards, he founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society. Jon Kabat-Zinn has conducted a vast amount of research on the effect of MBSR on pain, anxiety, brain function and immune function.

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He's also trained groups of CEOs, clergy, judges, athletes, and congressional staff in mindfulness. His methods and insights have been used to introduce mindfulness and meditation practices in healthcare, schools, corporations, prisons, and other places.

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Kabat-Zinn is retired from his professorship at the University of Massachusetts but is still involved in the centres he founded and an avid public speaker, writer, and mindful meditation workshop host. Apart from that, he's held numerous fellowships and memberships, including as a board member of the Mind and Life Institute, an organisation that facilitates dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Western scientists.


Jon Kabat Zinn and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

The MBSR program is an eight-week course that incorporates mindfulness, to assist people with stress, pain, anxiety and panic, psychological difficulties, illness and other  life issues. MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness and body scans – as well as yoga – to help people become more present. Although MBSR is based on spiritual teachings, the program is secular. The benefits of MBSR include:


  • stress reduction;
  • overcoming chronic anxiety;
  • improvements to the quality of life.


MBSR is a method taught by trained instructors, that entails weekly group meetings, a one-day retreat [six-hour mindfulness practice], daily homework (45-60 minutes per day), and instruction in three techniques: mindfulness meditation, body scanning and mindful yoga.


“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn


MBSR is based on the fundaments of non-judgmental awareness, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, beginner’s mind, patience, trust and non-cantering.

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Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness.” During the program, participants are invited to focus both on their practice, and on incorporating mindfulness into everyday routines. In doing so, MBSR enhances self-management and coping with the environment, and one’s reaction to it. MBSR also helps you to stop ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. The MBSR course is offered by medical centres, hospitals, and general health organisations.


Jon Kabat-Zinn: books

Jon Kabat-Zinn has written numerous books on mindfulness and MBSR. The first one, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, gives detailed instructions for the practice of MBSR. His second book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, became a best-seller in giving a very down-to-earth introduction to mindfulness.


“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Jon Kabat-Zinn


Afterwards, Kabat-Zinn wrote more books, including Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness, Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment – And Your Life, and Coming Through Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, in which Kabat-Zinn reflects on sentience and awareness.

Online resources for Jon Kabat-Zinn

The net provides a wide range of possibilities to familiarize yourself with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s ideas, the MBSR program, and more. A lot of these materials are a mixture between free and paid-for. On the website soundstrue.com, there are a couple of different podcasts starring Kabat-Zinn and his ideas.

Topics included are:

  • The mindfulness Revolution.
  • Resting in Awareness.
  • Creating the Future in this Moment.

Mindfulness: be in the moment, whatever you're feeling

On the excellent website Audiodharma of the Insight Meditation Center, you can find hundreds of guided meditations, talks and interviews, with most of the big names in mindfulness and meditation included. Kabat-Zinn is also featured, in three talks on mindfulness in education.


“Give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

On the Mindfulness CDs website, associated with Jon Kabat-Zinn, you can find three paid-for collections of guided meditations by him. You can find a collection of videos of him speaking on different subjects, that link through to YouTube, where you can find many other videos, including guided meditations and full-length lectures.


Jon Kabat-Zinn: videos and events

There are many videos available starring Kabat-Zinn, either in interviews, or in lectures. The Greater Good Science Center has an overview of different videos with Kabat-Zinn. Topics included are: mindfulness, MBSR, compassion and well-being. The GGSC also hosts a free MOOC on edx called "the science of happiness".

Jon Kabat-Zinn remains an active speaker © flickr.com/UW Health

The Connection is a documentary film, internet platform, and blog, with separate videos on the connection between health and the mind. Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the featured experts that include Andrew Weil, Herbert Benson, and Sara Lazar.

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As mentioned, Kabat-Zinn is still very active as a public speaker, lecturer and event host. On E-Omega, you can find a schedule with some upcoming workshops on mindfulness and meditation. On Facebook, you can find a page dedicated to news and updates on Kabat-Zinn, managed by admirers, and you can follow the man himself on Twitter, too

Main image: colourbox.com


Written by Arlo Laibowitz

arlo.jpgArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.



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