Mindfulness has evolved over the years, and it might be a good way to find stillness, calm, and stress relief.

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There’s something so powerful about slowing down and paying attention.

Have you ever stopped for a moment to take in your surroundings? To take in the color of the sky, the way the air feels on your skin, or the surrounding sounds? If you have, you could say you were practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety and an accessible option for improving well-being. And as the conversation around mental health continues to evolve, so does the conversation around mindfulness.

But did you know that the history of mindfulness goes back hundreds of years?

People have been practicing mindfulness strategies for centuries.

The term originally comes from the Buddhist concept of “Sati,” which relates to the “moment to moment awareness of present events.” According to scholars, Buddhism itself was founded somewhere in the fifth century BCE by Siddhārtha Gautama (who most know as Buddha).

The modern translation of “Sati” to “mindfulness,” however, came in 1881 when Thomas William Rhys Davids, a British magistrate in Sri Lanka (previously known as Galle, Ceylon), identified “mindfulness” as the closest translation of the Buddhist concept of “Sati.”

While mindfulness was widely practiced in the East, it didn’t make its way over to the West until the 1970s.

Mindfulness first appeared in the United States because of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medication emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center of Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School

Kabat-Zinn first learned about the philosophical tenets of Buddhism while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1979, Kabat-Zinn opened the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. There, he adapted Buddhist teachings and created a program called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction,” or MBSR.

This program put MBSR into a scientific framework and diluted the connection between Buddhism and mindfulness.

But it still wasn’t until 1990 that his publication of “Full Catastrophe Living” brought global attention to his work. Since then, awareness and practice of mindfulness continued to grow.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that meditation was the fastest growing health trend in the United States.

As the conversation around mental health continues to expand, mindfulness practices are becoming more well known as coping methods for stress and mental health conditions.

“Mindfulness involves paying attention to something in the moment, on purpose, and with open curiosity,” says Anne-Marie Emanuelli, the creative director of Mindful Frontiers, an education-based meditation center in northern New Mexico.

Merriam-Webster defines “mindfulness” as the quality or state of being mindful or the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.

“Awareness of breath, sounds, or bodily sensations is often referred to as the ‘awareness anchor,'” explains Emanuelli.

While you might associate mindfulness with meditation, it’s not the only way to practice mindfulness. You can dive into mindfulness in several ways, from mindful eating to mindful movement.

At its core, though, the purpose of mindfulness lies in being present to build self-awareness over your state of being, which, in turn, can positively impact your overall well-being.

Evidence suggests that mindfulness-based practices may help curb stress, improve sleep, and even lower blood pressure in some people.

Findings from one 2018 research review suggested that mindfulness meditation may help improve sleep quality for some people with sleep issues. And one small 2019 study involving 48 participants found that practicing mindfulness may help decrease blood pressure.

Practicing mindfulness can even decrease anxiety and depression in times of crisis.

Mindfulness isn’t just for one group of people. It’s for everybody. “I believe that mindfulness is something anyone can practice, from the very young to the elderly,” says Emanuelli.

There are several ways to practice mindfulness, from how you listen to how you eat to how you fall asleep. You can incorporate each method into your particular daily routine in a way that works best for you.

Somewhere out there, there might be an ideal mindfulness practice for you — or maybe even two.

Mindfulness exercises

Here are a few mindfulness exercises to consider:

  • Meditation. Meditation is often synonymous with mindfulness, and mindful meditations can help you center yourself and regain control of your headspace. Additionally, many styles of mindful meditation exist for you to explore.
  • Breathing. Breath work or mindful breathing can be a helpful and simple way to ease your mind. It involves slowing down and paying attention to your breath.
  • Yoga. Yoga is one of the most common mindfulness practices. You may find it helps you become more aware of your body and move more mindfully.
  • Journaling. Journaling can help you become more mindful of your thoughts and feelings. Journal prompts like, “how’s my heart today?” can help you uncover your sense of self.

Mindfulness is a supportive tool that might be worth adding to your well-being tool kit. “Mindfulness is a powerful tool to improve attention, focus, mental health, and relationships,” explains Emanuelli.

Mindfulness can involve a structured routine or simply taking brief moments to pay attention. There’s no need to set aside hours of time to practice mindfulness. Just a few minutes a day can make a difference.

Where mindfulness goes from here will depend on how many people embrace this kind of practice.

We may see more schools and workplaces introducing mindfulness to students and workers. And as folks continue to work toward destigmatizing mental health conditions, we may see a greater push toward practices like mindfulness that help us look within and manage stress in healthy ways.

Regardless of how mindfulness evolves, consider this an opportunity to see if it’s a tool that might help you with whatever you’re working through.