Researchers stress that a critical component of school-based mindfulness programs is understanding the basic definition and purpose of mindfulness––including what mindfulness is, and what it is not. 1
Explore Mindful Schools’ definition of mindfulness and common misconceptions that we’ve encountered.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindful Schools defines mindfulness as being present here and now, paying attention to thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, and the external environment with kindness, nonjudgment, and curiosity.
Mindfulness is a practice that can provide immediate tools to meet the difficulties of life with care and compassion. With continued practice, mindfulness can support us to do the personal work of changing our internal patterns and behaviors, including our judgments, biases, and stress responses. When our awareness of our internal world starts to change, our relationship to what is happening in the external world can change.
As educators, this means that practicing mindfulness empowers us to nurture our personal growth alongside our professional responsibilities, and supports us to create safe and supportive spaces for our students.
5 Myths and Misconceptions of Mindfulness (That Can Hinder Your School-Based Program)
At Mindful Schools, we support schools and educators to take an invitational and integrated approach to nurture well-being in schools. Researchers say that a critical component of school-based mindfulness programs is understanding the basic definition and purpose of mindfulness––including what mindfulness is, and what it is not.1 Misconceptions about mindfulness can interfere with successful program implementation, often by creating unrealistic expectations or by introducing mindfulness in a way that seeks to control student behavior.
Myth #1: Mindfulness means being calm and stress-free.
Many people come to mindfulness expecting that mindfulness will bring peace or calm, which is understandable since many images of mindfulness are quite idealized, depicting serene and happy people. While research strongly indicates mindfulness practice supports states of relaxation, reduced stress, improved self-regulation, and positive emotions, mindfulness itself is not being calm, relaxed, or happy. 2
At Mindful Schools, we emphasize that the ultimate intention behind a mindfulness lesson is to support students’ awareness, not to manufacture a certain state or emotion.
Myth #2: Mindfulness is about trying to clear your mind.
Practicing mindfulness can lead to a quieting of the chatter in our minds, but the goal of mindfulness is not to get rid of all thoughts. Thoughts are simply part of the human experience, and mindfulness allows us to become more aware of them. When students assume that mindfulness means “not thinking” or having a “clear mind,” they can get easily frustrated when they’re noticing all those stories and thoughts and judgments––when, actually, noticing the thoughts is the point!
We are practicing mindfulness when we notice what our minds are doing.
Myth #3: Mindfulness means students will be still, quiet, and calm. It can be introduced as a form of discipline, behavior management, or a way to support compliance.
Mindfulness teaches students to be aware of all experiences, including when they’re loud, restless, or active. It is offered without expectations, as an invitation for self-awareness. Mindful Schools programs provide trauma-sensitive strategies and a range of options for students to engage in mindfulness practice. Students are in choice about how, and if, they practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a quality of awareness that can be brought to any activity and any experience throughout the day.
In 101: Mindfulness Foundations, learn practices that can resource you during the school day and daily life, with trauma-sensitive approaches for navigating emotons, working with thoughts and biases, and cultivating compassion and joy. Educators earn credits.
Myth #4: Mindfulness involves ignoring or pushing away unpleasant experiences.
When we practice mindfulness, we notice and allow whatever is arising in the present moment––including challenges or difficulties––without judgment.
Myth #5: Mindfulness encourages students and teachers to accept unacceptable conditions.
Mindfulness is not about just accepting things and saying, everything’s fine, no need to do anything here. With mindfulness practice, we develop a capacity to be measured in what kind of changes we bring about, and to bring about that change in a skillful, intentional, and compassionate way. Mindfulness encourages action when we’re rooted in awareness and understanding.
Mindfulness empowers students and educators.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
With continued practice, mindfulness can support us to do the personal work of noticing and changing our internal patterns and behaviors, including our judgments, biases, and stress responses. When our awareness of our internal world starts to change, our relationship to what is happening in the external world can change.
Next: What does a “mindful school” look like?
Milner Middle School, a Title I school in Hartford, CT, is partnering with Mindful Schools to build a schoolwide culture of mindfulness. Watch their story and see what can happen when a community invests in whole-school well-being.
Integrating a culture of mindfulness in schools cannot happen overnight. Research shows that introducing mindfulness takes time, resources, and committed staff. That’s why Mindful Schools partners with schools and districts to carefully create multi-year, intentional programs that meet the needs of their unique communities. Learn more about our School Services.
Our team of educators knows that you are doing meaningful, heartfelt work and our approach is simple. We empower you—the school’s culture keepers—to build upon your individual and collective strengths to achieve your community’s vision of equity and wellness. Join us!
1 Broderick PC, Schussler DL. Exploring Fidelity in School-Based Mindfulness Programs. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. 2021;10. doi:10.1177/21649561211067996
2 Broderick and Schussler (above) specifically caution against conflating what mindfulness is (a particular quality of attention) with the common benefits associated with mindfulness practice.