Jon Kabat-Zinn

The work of Jon Kabat-Zinn

Who is Jon Kabat-Zinn?

Born in New York City in 1944, Jon Kabat-Zinn is a professor who works at the Medical School at the University of Massachusetts. He is an emeritus professor of medicine who has a particular scientific focus on the role of certain aspects of Buddhism, in particular, mindfulness within a Western tradition of medicine. He founded the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at his medical school in 1979. He is also a powerful advocate for stress reduction programmes that allow patients to treat a wide range of conditions themselves. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been recommending that professionals in the US healthcare system take the role of mindfulness more seriously, which, he claims, can assist patients who are coping with stress, anxiety and pain. He also says that certain mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) methods that can be learned by following traditions in Buddhism are also able to help deal with certain conditions and illnesses.

What is mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn? 

As an adherent of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn takes a scientific approach to what it can do for people by engaging in studies which measure its effects. As a graduate of bio-medicine from Haverford College in 1964, Jon Kabat-Zinn went on to earn a PhD in molecular biology from MIT in the early 1970s. As such, his approach to mindfulness techniques has always been something that he has attempted to explain in quantitative terms with plenty of data to back up his arguments that it provides healthcare professionals with a therapeutic option that can complement other medical approaches. His work in MBSR has led to it being adopted more widely in the West thanks to his often pioneering research.

How did Jon Kabat-Zinn discover the power of meditation?

Jon Kabat-Zinn first came across the possibilities of meditation when he met Philip Kapleau, a Zen missionary who he encountered during his time at MIT. Subsequently, Jon Kabat-Zinn went on to study meditation with a number of Buddhist teachers, Thích Nhất Hanh and Seungsahn among them. Later, he would go on to study the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, often considered to be the oldest form of Buddhism, at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, where his ideas developed.

What is Jon Kabat-Zinn's background?

Jon Kabat-Zinn came from a non-religious Jewish family, one of nine children. As a young man, he was an advocate for peace during the Vietnam war. As a high-achieving medical student, he would go on to study under Salvador Luria, a Nobel Prize-winning microbiologist who specialised in genetic, bacterial resistance.

Which books by Jon Kabat-Zinn should you read?

"Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness”, first published in 1991 is one of Jon Kabat-Zinn's better-known works. Alternatively, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness and Meditation in Everyday Life”, of 1994, is considered to be a book that is ideal for a general readership. More recently, “Mindfulness for Beginners” is another good place to start understanding his overall approach.

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Western medicine is the term that is used for the diagnoses and treatments of diseases and other ailments in the west from the time of the ancient Greeks. In some cases, people simply refer to it as 'medicine'. However, the term western medicine is also used in order to distinguish it from alternative healing methods and traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM. As well as developing treatments and cures, western forms of medicine are also applied in preventative fields and public health programmes. Today, the practice is both highly specialised and multi-disciplinary taking in anything from physiotherapy to keyhole surgery and psychiatry to chemotherapy.
In short, mindfulness is the ability to pay proper attention to the here and now. Psychologists usually describe it as living in the present moment, with less emotional energy being expended on things that have passed or which may – or may not – occur in the future. Various techniques are used by people to achieve a greater level of present-moment living. In most cases, modern methods for achieving mindfulness are based on Buddhist concepts, such as sati. In large numbers, people practise mindfulness by meditating and paying more attention to positive things in their lives to reduce stress. These mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques which have a proven scientific effect.
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