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March 2, 2023

Mindfulness Teaching Skills Series (Part 1)

Once you've experienced the transformative power of mindfulness in your own life, teaching mindfulness to others may feel like a natural next step. What better way to build up others than through the gift of mental clarity and contentment?

If this sounds like you, perhaps you're wondering whether someone like you could make a living as a mindfulness or meditation teacher. You suspect you’ll need to do some sort of certification or training, but which program should you choose?

For helping professionals or those with a passion for health, coaching, or education, you can leverage your existing skills and knowledge as a pathway to teaching mindfulness. But even if you’ve never taught before, that’s okay. A comprehensive training program will cover everything you need to know and include plenty of mentoring and support to build your confidence.

In this series, we'll walk you through the six globally recognized skill sets you’ll gain as part of a quality mindfulness accreditation and explore what’s involved in leading a successful mindfulness curriculum.

teaching mindfulness, Teaching Mindfulness: Planning Your Mindfulness Session

Guidelines for Teaching Mindfulness

There are many training options globally for becoming certified to lead mindfulness sessions or meditations. Different accreditations will vary in the criteria used to train and assess your skills. This means programs will differ in their quality of teaching.

To help ensure the quality of accreditation programs worldwide, researchers and mindfulness experts have identified six essential skill sets possessed by the most effective teachers and coaches. These skill sets will be at the heart of any good mindfulness teaching certification or training program.

These skill sets are as follows:

  • Coverage, pacing, and organization of a session curriculum
  • Relational skills
  • Embodiment of mindfulness
  • Guiding mindfulness practices
  • Conveying course themes through interactive inquiry and didactic teaching
  • Holding the group learning environment

With these skill sets in hand, you can feel confident leading your own meditation classes or incorporating mindfulness into your existing profession or niche. Likewise, qualified helping professionals can use the training as a launchpad to teach mindfulness as part of a standardized methodology (e.g., mindfulness-based stress reduction, MBSR; mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, MBCT).

Let’s start by covering the first set of skills you'll need to begin teaching mindfulness. These will explore how to ace the coverage, pacing, and organization of a session and curriculum.

Preparing a Mindfulness Session Plan

No matter the curriculum you plan to teach, there are some important basics that belong in most mindfulness sessions.

Every session needs a theme

Your theme is like your 'food for thought' that sets the intention and guides the learning of those you teach. If you're following a standard curriculum, these themes may be included in the curriculum manual.

To illustrate, take a look at the theme for Session One of the University of Massachusetts Medical School's MBSR curriculum:

"From our point of view, as long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you, no matter what challenges you are facing. Challenges and difficulties are workable..."

This theme offers an empowering start for new students, inspiring their confidence that whatever mental or emotional challenges they may be navigating, they're fine as they are, and things can always improve.

When choosing your session themes, it’s typically best to choose ones that are practical and grounded. Avoid themes that are overly spiritual or esoteric. Likewise, ensure themes will feel applicable to those you teach, and keep it simple by having each theme cover just one mindfulness teaching principle at a time.

Plan take-home exercises

The time between mindfulness sessions is when clients truly integrate key learnings. Therefore, it's standard to provide some guided audio meditations for your clients to listen to at home. However, do not feel limited only to meditations.

When teaching mindfulness, part of your aim is to illustrate how the practice supports day-to-day happiness and wellbeing. Therefore, simple, experiential exercises that help dissolve the boundary between formal practice and the rest of life’s activities can be particularly insight-provoking.

Here are some simple ideas:

  • Intention-setting exercises at the beginning of the day
  • Mindful eating during mealtimes
  • Automaticity and habit journals
  • Mindful listening and communication with others
  • Scheduling a mindful walk in nature

Of course, you’ll also want to provide take-home activities tailored to your specific teaching or coaching specialization.

For instance, if you work with clients through grief, you may include specific reflections to help them mindfully observe the physical signatures of difficult emotions. Likewise, if you specialize in sleep coaching, you could include pre-recorded sleep meditations as part of your take-home materials.

Schedule time in your session to explain what's involved in your take-home activities. Be sure to allow time to debrief and invite reflections on exercises from the previous session too.

Mindfulness Teaching Materials

For a powerful mindfulness session, it's important to be well-prepared. Teaching mindfulness in groups will naturally invite distraction as discussions wander, so being organized from the outset never hurts.

Here are some useful tips:

  • Organize the room to minimize distractions (e.g., switch off noisy equipment, set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature).
  • Set out the required number of chairs, mats, or cushions ahead of time, and be sure to have a few spares handy.
  • Leave handouts in a booklet or folder on each client's seat.
  • If you use music, recordings, or videos during your sessions, familiarize yourself with the audio-visual technology in the room and have these pre-loaded and ready to play.
  • Prepare any teaching aids in advance (e.g., raisins for the raisin meditation).

If you're running a mindfulness course spanning several sessions, consider providing the take-home materials in a folder or tote bag for clients in their first session. As for sharing take-home audio recordings, you can include these on a USB stick or provide a link to a shared folder where clients can access or download these on their preferred digital devices.

teaching mindfulness, Teaching Mindfulness: Planning Your Mindfulness Session

How to Run Your Mindfulness Session

How to introduce your curriculum or classes

When teaching mindfulness to beginners, it can be useful to open with a brief, experiential introduction to the practice in your first session.

Following this, go around the room and take a little time individually with each client to introduce yourself and answer any questions. By doing this, you can explore the fit between your program and your clients’ aims. 

Some useful questions to ask include:

  • "What brings you here today?"
  • "What are you hoping will change as a result of these sessions?"
  • “What sparked your interest in mindfulness/meditation?”
  • “Do you have any questions or concerns you’d like to ask me about?”

Of course, if you’re teaching mindfulness as part of a therapy or stress-related intervention (e.g., MBCT, MBSR), you can include these questions as part of a standard intake interview.

Use your initial check-in with clients to inquire about mobility, posture, or pain-related issues that may affect their ability to sit for long periods or participate in certain exercises. You can then tailor your mindfulness teaching accordingly. For example, when meditating, you might invite a client with back pain to lie down or use a chair instead of a cushion.

How long should your meditations be?

You may be wondering: How long should I get clients to meditate for?

Experts tend to recommend you include at least 30 minutes of formal practice in your mindfulness sessions, but many beginners find that a 5- or 10-minute meditation feels very long. When teaching mindfulness, it's important to tailor the length of practices to the needs and experience of those you teach.

To illustrate, it would probably be unwise to guide a group of first-time meditators in an executive suite through thirty minutes of focused breath meditation. Chances are, they'll drift off into thoughts about their inbox! Similarly, younger children may need a gentler introduction to the practice.

If meditation is the focus of your teaching, you can build up to this target of 30 minutes by including several shorter meditations or experiential exercises in your sessions. As you move through the later sessions in your curriculum, you can then build up to longer meditations.

Another tip is to include a little extra guided instruction in your earlier meditations. Doing so can help minimize time getting swept up by a wandering mind.

How to conclude your mindfulness sessions

Finally, it's important to mark the conclusion of your mindfulness teaching with a transition or mindful pause. Doing so helps illustrate the benefits of mindful awareness as we transition between activities in daily life.

Try to dedicate at least five minutes to transitioning out of your session. Here are a few ideas you could try:

  • A short visualization where clients picture themselves carrying out their upcoming activities in a state of peace.
  • Ask clients to bring a notebook and invite them to journal any reflections or insights in the last five minutes.
  • If you include bodywork or yoga in your sessions, consider ending with the savasana or 'corpse' pose.
teaching mindfulness, Teaching Mindfulness: Planning Your Mindfulness Session

Pacing and Flow When Teaching Mindfulness

When you begin teaching mindfulness, you may notice a temptation to hold tightly to your plan for each session.

There's a comfort in sticking to a plan, but this can paradoxically close down the openness and flexibility that's needed to be responsive to your students' needs and speed of learning. This is why mastering a mindfulness session's flow and pacing is an important part of any mindfulness teaching accreditation.

Be mindful of the length of your instructions as you guide participants through meditations, and make sure to allow enough time for attention to settle following each direction. Likewise, when explaining concepts or principles, be attentive to when students have understood your message and avoid belaboring the point.

When it's time to go around a room and invite participants to share, practice being explicit about the specific length of the response you're seeking. For example, if you're inviting participants to reflect on a guided meditation, you might say: "Let's go around and each share one sentence about what you just experienced."

Naturally, discussions will veer during your mindfulness session. When they do, it’s important to bring things back to a shared focus gently. Useful phrases to help do this include:

  • "We seem to have strayed off our focus a little. Shall we get back to the key exploration for this session?"
  • "Let's pause there. The point you've raised is important, and we're about to cover that in a moment."
  • "Do you mind stopping for a moment? You've given me lots of information already, so let's look together at what you're describing to make sure I've understood."

Rest assured that most mindfulness course curriculums (including ours) will give detailed guidance about how much time to dedicate to each component of your session. But as your confidence grows, you'll be able to intuit when it's time to move from one part to the next on your own.

Learning Mindfulness Teaching Skills

It's easy to feel adrift and unsure of where to start as you embark on the journey of mindfulness teaching. Maybe you're considering transitioning careers and are interested in teaching mindfulness full-time. Or perhaps you're curious about how mindfulness could fit into your existing methodology or focus as a coach, therapist, or trainer.

While there are many useful resources to help build a business or skill set in mindfulness, certification is one of the surest paths to success.

If you’re on the hunt for a quality certification program, make sure you’re getting good value for your time and financial investment by ensuring it includes the following:

  • Pre-prepared curriculums, meditations, and activities to take the stress out of planning your sessions.
  • Tailored advice for customizing your mindfulness sessions and themes to meet the goals of your client base.
  • One-to-one mentoring and feedback to build your confidence and master the pacing of your sessions.

You've just learned the first of six science-backed skill sets for teaching mindfulness. At MindfulnessExercises.com, our certification program is designed with these skill sets at its core and includes all the support and resources you need to kick off a career in mindfulness teaching.

With done-for-you curriculums and two hours of weekly one-to-one coaching, our internationally accredited certification will equip you with everything you need to teach mindfulness and meditation in any context.

Click here to learn more and take advantage of our limited-time registrations.

Become a Certified Mindfulness Teacher

About the author 

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]