In This Article Mindfulness and Education

  • Introduction
  • Definition and Origins of Mindfulness
  • The Growth of Secular Mindfulness
  • What Does Mindfulness Mean and How Might It Work in Practice?
  • The Spread of Mindfulness-Based Interventions—and Some Criticisms
  • Measuring Mindfulness
  • Overviews and General Guidance on Mindfulness and Contemplative Education
  • Guidance on Teaching Mindfulness in Classrooms
  • Contemplative Education
  • Reviews of the Quantitative Evidence Base for Mindfulness with School-Aged Youth

Psychology Mindfulness and Education
by
Katherine Weare, Felicia Huppert
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0236

Introduction

This article focuses on the literature on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation with children and young people in schools and in higher education. It touches on mindfulness for adult educators including teachers and on the overlapping field of contemplative education in higher education. This is a selective guide to the theoretical, research, and practice-based literature in a rapidly evolving field and aimed at those unfamiliar with the territory. Work with young people cannot be understood in isolation, so the article begins by going back to first principles, looking at issues of definitions and origins of mindfulness from within ancient wisdom traditions, most particularly, but not exclusively, its Buddhist origins. It then contextualizes work with young people within the rapid rise of secular mindfulness for adult populations since the late 1970s, explores modern scientifically based definitions, and the domination of the therapeutically based model of mindfulness as an “intervention,” touching on some concerns and critiques, and outlining how mindfulness is currently being measured in adults and young people. It moves on to an account of overviews of mindfulness in education, citing the best of the plethora of guidance on how mindfulness might be implemented in schools, universities, and classrooms. It outlines the key literature on the rapidly expanding world of contemplative education, which is asking rather different questions to those raised by the model of mindfulness as an “intervention,” being more firmly based in philosophical and educational approaches. The world of classroom curricula is a burgeoning and lively one, and the article cites some of the best evidenced and most positively reviewed resources. There is a growing and promising evidence base to guide the field, and the last part of the article outlines the main reviews, which between them suggest there is a small to moderate impact of mindfulness when well taught and implemented. The article concludes by looking in more detail at the core literature in main areas in which mindfulness appears to be showing impact, including: psycho-social well-being and mental health; social and emotional skills including compassion and kindness; cognition, executive function, learning, and academic attainment; and physical health. See also the Oxford Bibliographies article in Education, “Mindfulness, Learning, and Education,” which has overlaps with this article, but explores in more detail definitions, overviews and websites and the implications for learning, while this article has a stronger focus on psychological mechanisms, measurement, and the empirical evidence base. They are probably best consulted together for a full understanding.

Definition and Origins of Mindfulness

Put simply, mindfulness is the ability to be aware of our experience as it is happening, while maintaining an attitude of openness, curiosity, and kindness. The term “mindfulness” is used in a wide variety of ways in the literature, and there is naturally controversy and debate. The school of thought that has emerged as mainstream, including in education, emanates from the seminal work Kabat-Zinn 2004 and sees formal practice, including mindfulness meditation, as essential to cultivate the skills, habits of mind, and neural pathways that enable us to sustain and maintain an attentional focus on present experience. This meditation-based approach is the type of mindfulness covered in this article. (There are rather different definitions that have had some influence within education, mostly mindfulness as the drawing of novel distinctions, rather than as a practice based on meditation. See the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Psychology, “Mindfulness”, which uses this perspective.) The key journal in the field, Mindfulness, publishes papers from across a wide variety of traditional and modern approaches. It reflects the fact that techniques to cultivate mindfulness that can help maintain attitudes of peacefulness, clarity, calm, steadiness, open mindedness, and compassion in the midst of our busy lives, have been taught in many religious and wisdom traditions from both East and West, and that there are many kinds of mindfulness practice, including meditation, contemplation, self-understanding, kindness and compassion practice. Mindfulness, including mindfulness-based meditation, is most strongly linked to Buddhism, where it is seen as an essential part of the path that leads to the reduction of human discontent by helping to cultivate a disciplined and equanimous mind; this is a path that includes a wide range of attitudes, actions, and intentions that underpin the leading of a wholesome and ethical life. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Buddhism “Mindfulness.” Some literature on currently popular approaches, such as Nhat Hanh 2008, continues to present mindfulness within this ancient Buddhist lineage, and the appeal of such an approach is increasing as modern secular mindfulness spreads and people seek to deepen their understanding of its origins and their own practice. For a more detailed discussion of Nhat Hanh, a seminal figure in mindfulness, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Buddhism “Thich Nhat Hanh.” There is also a growing literature on compassion, self-compassion, and befriending practice and meditation, which have a strong appeal to the Western self-critical mind, as noted in Feldman 2017. Buddhism continues to have influence and manifestations within mindfulness in education, while in higher education the overlapping field of contemplative education is inspired by both Buddhism and a wider range of wisdom traditions, explored in Contemplative Education.

  • Feldman, Christina. 2017. The boundless heart: The Buddha’s path of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. New York: Penguin.

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    Written by a highly respected and popular Western mindfulness meditation teacher, this is one of the first books to bring Buddhism to the West. It outlines the theoretical base for compassion and gives detailed instructions for attitudes, practices, and mediations that cultivate mindfulness, compassion, kindness, equanimity, and joy.

  • Kabat-Zinn, Jon. 2004. Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

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    This is a seminal book on the role of mindfulness meditation in day-to-day life. Although not a scientific work, it offers one of the most widely cited definitions of mindfulness and is a highly accessible and inspirational read. It is widely regarded as having launched mindfulness meditation into mainstream public consciousness.

  • Mindfulness.

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    This is the main journal in the field and publishes peer-reviewed papers that examine the latest research findings and best practices in mindfulness. It explores the nature and foundations of mindfulness, mechanisms of actions, and its use across cultures. Papers cover the full spectrum of professions and client groups and draw on the full range of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, medicine, neurobiology, psycho-neuroendocrinology, cognitive, behavioral, cultural, philosophy, education, spirituality, and wisdom traditions.

  • Nhat Hanh, Thich. 2008. The miracle of mindfulness: The classic guide to meditation by the world’s most revered master (Classic Edition). London, UK: Rider.

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    Written by the widely respected Zen Master, poet, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and prolific and highly influential author on mindfulness. This is perhaps his most accessible and seminal work. It offers a philosophical and practical guide to mindfulness in everyday life, using familiar objects and situations to give a framework on which to build meditation and maintain a more healthful, relaxed, and harmonious outlook.

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