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When Mindfulness Became Mainstream

Shannon Harvey

Jon Kabat-Zinn walked into the building and was instantly mobbed. People around me gushed that he had arrived. One woman started shaking with nervousness as she lined up to take his picture and get his autograph.

 Jon Kabat-Zinn, or JKZ as we like to call him in our office, is a rock star in the mindfulness world. He’s a mindfulness teacher with a huge devoted following, who counts among his friends world leading scientists and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But you wouldn’t know it. He’s not on social media - at all. His fake Facebook page has more than 22, 000 likes.  

I was at the US premiere of The Connection and JKZ is one of 10 experts I interviewed for the film. The event was sold out weeks before the premiere date because JKZ was featured on a panel discussion following the film and the event was supported by the organization he founded - The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and Healthcare at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. They sent one email to their list and filled the theater in 5 days.

  If you’ve looked into meditation and mindfulness in any small or big way, the chances are you’ve come across the work of JKZ. He’s the author of a number of best selling books, including Full Catastrophe Living and Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. He is also the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, a program that has been scientifically proven to improve stress, pain, anxiety and chronic illness among a number of other things. In just 8 weeks the program has been shown to change people’s brain structure. More than 20, 000 people around the world have now taken the teacher training program and thousands of people have started businesses based solely on teaching MBSR.   In the 1980's, JKZ started bringing together the practices of meditation and mindfulness with credible scientific enquiry into its impact on health. Back then it was considered heresy. These days it’s considered self-evident and hundreds of researchers all over the world from top academic institutions are now studying mindfulness.

  It’s starting to penetrate the mainstream too. TIME Magazine recently hailed the ‘Mindful Revolution, Google has an in-house mindfulness program, and here’s a list of successful people who meditate, including Newscorp Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch. Check out this post from Arianna Huffington about mindfulness and its’ connection to corporate bottom line. During the panel discussion that followed our US premiere of The Connection, Eric Dickson the CEO of UMASS Memorial Hospital, told the audience he was going to ensure that all first year medical students see our film. What started as small, tentative footsteps taken by JKZ a few decades ago has now become an entire movement increasingly considered mainstream.

  In this video you can hear the first 5 minutes of my interview with JKZ where he talks about how he began MBSR in 1979 because people were falling through the cracks of the medical system. He explains that today people are falling through the chasms of the medical system and as a result people are turning to mindfulness desperately looking for answers.  

While some people have criticized the western movement to embrace ancient eastern techniques, there’s no doubt that mindfulness is here to stay and the need will only become greater as our world becomes increasingly hectic and hyper-connected.   

Introduction for Jon Kabat-Zinn from Elemental Media on Vimeo.


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