There are a number of different mindfulness-based approaches that are based on contemplative traditions and meditative practices that are thousands of years old and that many millions of people around the world have found helpful.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was originally developed in the 1970's by Jon Kabat-Zinn as a "training vehicle for the relief of suffering." He wondered if people with long-standing and serious health problems such as chronic pain, psoriasis, cancer and heart disease might benefit from learning mindfulness. The MBSR course was a distillation of these contemplative traditions and practices into a secular eight-week training that could be useful to people with chronic physical health problems.

More recently, the psychologists Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale realised that people who suffer repeated bouts of depression might also be helped by mindfulness training. Building on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, they developed Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Like MBSR, MBCT encourages participants to change their relationship to thoughts, feelings and body sensations. Those who practice MBCT learn to see more clearly how their minds work and to recognise when their mood is beginning to dip without getting caught up in analysis and rumination. This helps break old associations between negative mood, negative thinking and body states and enables people to respond in ways that are more self-compassionate and helpful.