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. He's 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 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. Later, 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).
The mindfulness master himself: 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
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, mindfulness master
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.
The MBSR program is an eight-week course that incorporates mindfulness, to assist people with stress, pain, anxiety and panic attacks, 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:
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.
Mindfulness: be in the moment, whatever you're feeling
MBSR is based on the fundaments of non-judgmental awareness, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, beginner’s mind, patience, trust and non-cantering.
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 has written numerous books on mindfulness and MBSR. The first one, Full Catastrophe Living, 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, mindfulness master
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.
“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, mindfulness master
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.
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.
Likewise, 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".
Arlo 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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