How to Find an Authentic Mindfulness Teacher

As more and more of us seek mindfulness guidance and instruction, where should we turn to find teachers and programs we can trust and recommend?

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Search “mindfulness instruction” online and you’ll come up with all kinds of offerings, from private practitioners to independent mindfulness programs. There are Yelp listings of the top 10 mindfulness coaches and smartphone listings of the 10 best mindfulness apps. More and more medical centers offer mindfulness workshops; so do many colleges, universities, and corporations. But how can anyone know if the people who are teaching mindfulness are qualified? What does it even mean to be a qualified mindfulness teacher?

What does it mean to be a “qualified” mindfulness teacher?

People interested in exploring mindfulness aren’t the only ones asking this basic question. So are many leaders in the field of mindfulness meditation, who have raised concerns about maintaining the appropriate level of integrity among teachers, which many refer to by talking about “professionalism.”

“The growth of mindfulness over the past 30 years has been very organic,” says Diana Winston, who directs mindfulness education at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. “The field has evolved without any kind of order. That’s been good in many ways. But now, really anyone can hang up a shingle as a mindfulness teacher. There’s no professional training required. A person with great marketing skills can start a successful practice with very little experience in mindfulness.”

With all of that in mind, how do you single out the good teachers and avoid the bad ones?

How to Find a Good Mindfulness Teacher Right Now:

First, if you’re looking for a mindfulness instructor you can use this checklist to evaluate whether they’re right for you.

1. Check their background
How did they become a mindfulness teacher? Do they have verifiable training? Are they part of an established community?

2. Check their credentials
Do they have certification from a group whose standards you can see?

3. Explore their practice specialty
What practices do they teach and practice themselves, and do those line up with your interests?

4. Check out their accessibility
Are they easy to reach and communicate with? Can you connect with any of their students to learn more about them?

5. Tune into how they embody the practice
Do they engage with the world in a mindful way? In other words, do they walk the talk?

Six Skills to Look For in a Mindfulness Teacher

The closest thing to a widely accepted standard for measuring mindfulness teacher competence today is the Mindfulness-Based Intervention Teaching Assessment Criteria, or MBI:TAC, created in 2008 by researchers from Oxford, Exeter, and Bangor Universities in the UK. The MBI:TAC focuses on skills required to teach a class of students, measuring competence in six areas, called domains. These include:

1. Organization: Session curriculum shows depth and pacing

This domain considers how well teachers are prepared and how well they cover the curriculum content of the session, balancing the needs of the individual, the group, and the requirements of teaching the course. 

2 Relationship Building: Connection and authenticity

This domain addresses the interpersonal connection between individual participants and teacher. Characteristics of a good teacher include empathy, authenticity, compassion, warmth, curiosity, and respect, among others.

3. Embodiment of mindfulness: non-striving and patience

To embody a practice of mindfulness is to bring the core attitudes of mindfulness practice—non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go—to the practice of teaching mindfulness.  

4. Articulation: Deep understanding of and communication of mindfulness practices

This domain assesses how well a teacher describes what participants are being invited to do in the practice, including all the elements required in that practice. The teacher guides students in the skills of recognizing when their minds have wandered and bringing their attention back, for example. The teacher’s language should be clear, precise, accurate, and accessible while conveying spaciousness.

5. Creativity: Conveying course themes through inquiry and didactic teaching

This domain assesses a teacher’s skill in conveying the themes of the course interactively to participants, using a range of teaching approaches that make the themes come alive.

6. Presence: Holding the group learning environment

A competent teacher creates a learning environment that “holds” the group and within which the learning takes place. The teacher should be able to “tune in to,” connect with, and respond appropriately to shifts and changes in group mood and characteristics.

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About the author

Peter Jaret

Peter Jaret is a frequent contributor to National Geographic, The New York Times, Health, and dozens of other periodicals. He is coauthor of Impact: From The Frontlines of Global Health, and is a recipient of the AMA Award for journalism.