With the popularity of mindfulness and meditation, there are still many questions people have about what mindfulness is, what a mindfulness teacher does and how to find a qualified teacher.
What is mindfulness?
Let’s start with what mindfulness is. There are many modern definitions that all pretty much say the same thing; mindfulness is paying attention to present moment experiences without judgment of thoughts, feelings or sensations and a willingness to be ok with what is. Mindfulness is paying deep attention to the world around you and within you, moment by moment.
Similarly to the field of medicine, mindfulness is a massive field. It blends ancient eastern philosophies and traditions with modern day brain and body science. The concept of mindfulness has been around thousands of years, the science of mindfulness has only been around since the seventies. Within the field of mindfulness, there are sub-categories. These include cultivation of character traits, self-study, physical wellbeing, and universal insight. Meditation is the foundational tool that helps people build the skill to live with mindfulness across all sub-categories. Other tools of mindfulness include compassion, non-judgment of self and others and kind communication. A mindfulness teacher teaches more than just meditation, although meditation is a core element of what a mindfulness teacher teaches.
What does a mindfulness teacher do?
It’s easier to start with what a mindfulness teacher does not do. They are not a spiritual teacher, minister or a guru of any kind. They are also not a life coach, therapist, a psychiatrist, or counselor. A modern mindfulness teacher is a specially trained facilitator who holds space for presence, reflection and connection with self and others to occur. They do this with the purpose of teaching the skill of paying attention to present moment experiences without judgment of thoughts, feelings or sensations.
A mindfulness teacher gives people the tools to make the world safe for themselves. It is not the role of a mindfulness teacher to solve people’s problems, coach, consult or minister. Nor is it their job to provide medical advice or administer psychotherapy. A mindfulness teacher’s purpose is to offer students tools that facilitate presence and personal reflection. With the purpose of character building, self-study, physical wellness, and insight.
How do I find a mindfulness teacher?
Teaching people how to be present, doesn’t sound that complicated until the first time you sit down for five minutes and try to pay attention to present moment experiences without judgment of thoughts, feelings or sensations. Teaching mindfulness is a highly specialized skill, most teachers have spent decades learning and practicing mindfulness and meditation and many have some type of formal or informal eastern philosophy education as well.
Additionally, like with most professions, there are certifications and associations that support the ongoing education, practice, and development of mindfulness teachers. The International Mindfulness Teachers Association (IMTA) is an accrediting organization that was created in 2016. They work with the leading mindfulness teacher training programs in the United States and abroad to create common education and training criteria for modern meditation teachers.
Some of the leading teacher programs include Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) out of University of Massachusetts, the Mindful Awareness Research Center out of UCLA MARC and The Center for Healthy Minds out of University of Wisconsin. These institutions provide lists of graduates and their contact information.
In addition to the specialized knowledge you also want to make sure you like the teacher’s style and approach. You likely will spend anywhere from 4-weeks to 12-months learning the basics of mindfulness. To get a feel for the style, most teachers will have free guided meditations posted on their websites or meditation applications like Insight Timer or Headspace. Below is a list of questions to consider before you choose a teacher.
Questions to consider:
· Are they a certified teacher and where did they study?
· What is their background outside of mindfulness?
· How many years have they been teaching?
· If hiring a teacher for a company, do they have experience teaching in a workplace or in your industry?
· Is there a way you can listen to a recording of one of their meditations before you begin?
· Do they have any books, blogs or articles you can read?
If you decide to move forward with an individual mindfulness program or you want to bring it to your workplace — as with all things, you will get out of your experience what you put into it. The choice is yours.