Jon Kabat-Zinn – Life And Mindfulness Techniques

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated September 26, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Slowing down, breathing deeply, quieting your mind, and becoming more aware of the present moment can change the way you think and feel about life. Although these principles of mindfulness have been practiced for centuries, it was Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who popularized their use in modern times.

Since developing them in the 1970s, Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness techniques—which, collectively, make up a practice known as mindfulness-based stress reduction—have been proven to help individuals improve various facets of their mental, physical, and emotional health.

His mindfulness strategies are also easy to learn and incorporate into your everyday life. Below, we’re discussing Dr. Kabat-Zinn, the principles of his mindfulness practice, and how you can use them to better connect with the present moment. 

Who Is Jon Kabat-Zinn?

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a retired scientist, researcher, and writer who worked to bring a specific set of meditation practices—known as mindfulness—to people around the world. Dr. Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic in 1979 and went on to create the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society in 1995.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s interest in mindfulness developed when he began meditating in 1965. Although the principles he eventually developed partially stemmed from traditional Buddhist meditation, he has mentioned that they can be used by anyone, regardless of whether they practice a specific religion.

Following his experiences with meditation, Dr. Kabat-Zinn developed a program for stress reduction that combined knowledge of Buddhist meditation and medical science. He looked for people with chronic illnesses who hadn't found help with traditional western medicine and, in 1979, enrolled them in his new stress-reduction program and began tracking of their progress. 

From 1979 to 2002, Dr. Kabat-Zinn conducted research on subjects related to mind and body interactions in healing. During this time, he worked to develop applications for mindfulness that could be used to help people experiencing a variety of physical and mental health conditions. Since that time, he has taught many classes and conducted several studies on the benefits and effectiveness of mindfulness.

Throughout this pursuit to bring mindfulness to a wider audience, Dr. Kabat-Zinn worked with others to develop a meditation process called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MSBR is an 8-week stress-reduction course that was first used at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Jon Kabat-Zinn has written extensively on mindfulness over the years. His work includes titles such as Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness and Mindfulness for Beginners, among others. He has also created various guided meditation programs. 

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that focuses on fostering awareness of the present. It typically involves bringing one’s attention to the physical and emotional sensations they’re experiencing. There are several techniques that can be used to practice mindfulness, including body scans, deep breathing, and walking meditation.  

Mindfulness meditation can have a variety of benefits for one’s physical and mental health. It can help with:

  • Alleviating symptoms of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety
  • Reducing stress
  • Controlling emotions 
  • Boosting working memory
  • Enhancing focus and cognitive flexibility
  • Improving relationship satisfaction
  • Increasing immune functioning
  • Lowering rates of fatigue 
  • Improving cardiovascular health
  • Managing pain
  • Boosting mood and energy
  • Promoting healthy sleep patterns

An Increased Awareness Of The Present Can Have Several Benefits

Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Techniques

The mindfulness practice developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn involves several specific techniques, which rely on the following basic principles.

Focus On The Here And Now

During mindfulness sessions, it's important to focus your attention on the present. If thoughts about the past or the future begin to intrude, the goal is to let them pass without dwelling on them. Instead, you can gently bring your focus back to the sensations you are experiencing in the moment.

Sensory Awareness

Mindfulness techniques typically involve paying enhanced attention to the information you're receiving through your senses. This could mean taking note of external stimuli, like sounds, sights, smells, and other sensations. You may also be directed to notice internal stimuli, including rumblings in your stomach, your heartbeat, or the feelings in your muscles.

Using The Imagination

Many of Dr. Kabat-Zinn's meditations are designed around visualization—picturing something unusual, calming, or instructive. You may be asked to imagine yourself taking a specific action (e.g., starting on a journey). Or you may be asked to visualize an image that reminds you of your feelings of friendliness towards others.

Practical Tips

During guided meditations, you may be given tips about steps you can take to increase your mindfulness in everyday situations. For example, Dr. Kabat-Zinn has suggested thinking of what it's like to watch sports on TV with the sound of the commentators turned off. Instead of listening to someone else's descriptions and judgments about the game, you develop your own perceptions and create your own narrative about what is taking place.

Back To The Breath

Many mindfulness techniques rely on increased attention to your breath. Breathwork is thought to reduce stress and help enhance the connection between the body and mind. As you practice mindfulness techniques, you’ll likely be asked to bring your attention back to your breathing frequently.

Nonjudgmental Observation

One of the most important principles of MBSR is nonjudgmental observation, in which you take note of the events and sensations of the present moment without placing a value on them or judging them as good or bad. For example, if you're experiencing pain, you may notice the sensation of discomfort and acknowledge what it feels like. However, you don’t dwell on the fact that pain is something bad you want to get rid of. Instead, you return to your breath or go on to notice other sensations.

The Body Scan

The body scan is one of the most basic techniques used by Dr. Kabat-Zinn in mindfulness-based stress reduction. To start, you lie comfortably on your back. You may be asked to notice the feeling of being connected to the floor or ground beneath you as you settle in.

Next, you begin with one area of your body, such as the toes on your left foot. You may notice the feelings you’re experiencing in your toes, such as warmth, tiredness, tension, or pain. You then imagine breathing in the direction of those toes. Then, you shift your focus to your heel and do the same thing. You continue moving your attention up your body until you reach the top of your head. Finally, you pay attention to your body as a whole while breathing slowly in and out.

Avoiding The Pursuit Of Perfection

According to Dr. Kabat-Zinn, the goal of mindfulness is not to strive for perfection. This pursuit can be an additional source of stress. So, it can be important to focus on listening to and following the guidance you’re being given. If you start to think you aren't doing it right, let those thoughts pass without judgment. Instead, experience what is occurring without demanding anything of yourself other than staying with the practice.

Is Mindfulness For Me?

An Increased Awareness Of The Present Can Have Several Benefits

As discussed above, research suggests that mindfulness can provide an array of benefits when it comes to our bodies and minds. However, there is also evidence that an increased focus on one’s thoughts and feelings may worsen certain mental and physical health challenges. This effect is thought to be mediated, however, when participants are able to avoid judgment. If you struggle to maintain awareness of your thoughts and feelings without also negatively evaluating them, mindfulness may not be as beneficial for you. In this case, working with a mental health provider or another professional who knows how to practice mindfulness may help. 

While mindfulness has been proven to help manage the symptoms of varied physical and emotional concerns, it is often utilized as a complementary modality. It may be implemented alongside treatments like medication, psychotherapy, or alternative medicine. If you’re wondering whether mindfulness will fit into your life or treatment plan, consider consulting with a healthcare provider. 

Increased Mindfulness With Online Therapy

Research suggests that online therapy can help individuals practice mindfulness in order to address common mental health concerns. In a study published in the journal Internet Interventions, researchers found that online therapy with a mindfulness component produced significant improvements in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and distress. The study also mentions that online therapy was less time-intensive than in-person therapy would have been. 

If mindfulness sounds like an attractive option for reducing stress, boosting your mood, or simply helping you connect to the present moment, you may also benefit from working with a mental health professional. With an cpnvenient online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can receive guidance as you practice mindfulness remotely, which may help you connect with the present moment. And your therapist can help you get useful resources, such as at-home exercises geared toward helping you develop mindfulness techniques.  


The mindfulness practices developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn serve as a strong foundation upon which we can build our own personal routines and better connect to the present moment. Whether you’re looking to feel more in-tune with your surroundings or manage the symptoms of a mental health disorder, mindfulness can help you take advantage of the connection between your mind and body. Especially when done with the help of a licensed therapist, mindfulness techniques that encourage you to treat yourself with patience, kindness, and love can make a significant difference in your life.

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