Mindfulness Yoga, also known as Mindful Yoga, is a combination of Buddhist-based mindfulness meditation techniques and Yoga as Exercise. It was pioneered by Kabat-Zinn in 1990, an American Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Incorporating his Yoga practice and studies with Buddhist teachers with scientific findings, Kabat-Zinn also created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, nowadays offered by many medical centers and hospitals around the world.
Buddhist and Hindu philosophies both have various traditions of meditation, including mindfulness — which has its roots in Vipassana Insight Meditation — with an aim of understanding the suffering created by our minds, addressing and getting rid of such suffering by starting to see reality clearly.
Yoga philosophy also offers the tools to address such issues, and the practice of Yoga can help to reduce suffering and stress, improve concentration and overall well-being, and give insight in how the “self” is constructed by our mind.
A Hatha Yoga practice — focused on doing Yoga poses (Asanas) — is a great way to prepare the mind and body for sitting meditation, and in Mindfulness Yoga it’s considered a meditative experience in itself. Combining meditation/mindfulness techniques from Buddhism, students are encouraged to practice the Yoga Asanas while focusing on observing their thoughts and sensations in the pose, and so train their concentration and awareness.
As a practical goal Mindfulness Yoga focuses on helping students to cope with stress, pain, and illness by using what is called “moment-to-moment awareness.”
Since Yoga and Buddhism can be seen as “sister traditions” and share many similarities, the connection and exchange of techniques between them has been going on for millennia, and they share the same ultimate goal: the attainment of Enlightenment (Self-Realization or Nirvana).
Nowadays this combination of Yoga and Mindfulness, conceptualized as a distinctive Yoga modality in the West and known as Mindfulness Yoga, has been promoted not only by Kabat-Zinn but also by many teachers and authors in the United States, and has been growing in popularity since the 1990’s, in a variety of slightly different styles.