Awareness of one’s experiences in the present moment

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … all states of harmonious well-being
  • Knowing is … harmonious being
  • Learner is … a self-aware agent
  • Learning is … achieving harmony
  • Teaching is … guiding




Mindfulness refers to a broad category of concepts and practices that have been rapidly gaining popularity over recent decades. Within education, definitions and applications tend to revolve around the meditation practices associated with being focused on and aware of one’s experiences in the present moment, often with particular attention on monitoring and analyzing disturbing thoughts and emotions. Such practices are linked to improved psychological health, self-knowledge, social aptitude. Associated discourses include:
  • Affective Learning (Emotional Learning) – Encompassing emotions, values, affiliations, motivations, and attitudes, Affective Learning is an umbrella term that can be applied to any activity intended to promote emotional well-being.
  • Biofeedback – a strategy to develop greater awareness and control of physiological functions through the use of electronic monitoring devices. Types of Biofeedback include:
    • Neurofeedback (EEG Biofeedback; Neurotherapy) – a type of Biofeedback aimed at developing the ability to alter brain waves by using information from a electroencephalograph (EEG). Specific examples include:
      • Decoded Neurofeedback (DecNef) – a process of influencing patterns of neural activity that involves measuring current patterns of neural activation, determining preferred patterns, and providing feedback over time on how well one is inducing the preferred patterns. Educationally, there appear to be major implications for memory problems, motor issues, emotional difficulties, and learning disabilities.
      • Mind Machine (Brain Machine; Light and Sound Machine) – a machine that affects one’s brainwaves with rhythmic pulses of sound and/or light
    • Alpha-Wave Training (Alpha Biofeedback; Alpha Neurofeedback) – a type of Neurofeedback aimed at developing the ability to achieve a state of peaceful wakefulness by increasing alpha waves
  • Contemplative Practices (Contemplative Education) – Sometimes considered synonymous to Mindfulness, Contemplative Practices are deliberate engagements aimed at the cultivation of conscious awareness and conscientious action (see the graphic below for illustrative examples). Typically, Contemplative Practices attend strongly to embodiment, thus refusing simplistic separations of knowing, doing, and being. Associated discourses include:
    • Contemplative Pedagogy – an approach to supporting learning that emphasizes deep engagement through reflection on the content and introspection around the experience, often associated with one or more specific Contemplative Practices
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  • Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku) – the practice of immersing oneself in a forest or other natural environment to reduce stress, increase creativity, and promote Mindfulness
  • Fully Functioning Person (Existential Living) (Carl Rogers, 1950s) – a reference to the extent to which one is able to exist freely and fearlessly in the present
  • Holistic Education (Holism) (Jan Christiaan Smuts, 1920s) – Both a philosophy and a movement, Holistic Education is concerned with the integrated development of all aspects of the learner (frequently expressed in terms of “mind, body, and spirit,” but sometimes emphasizing social/interpersonal relationships and cultural/democratic sensibilities).
  • Introceptive Awareness (Introception) – one’s ability to sense (i.e., identify, interpret, act in harmony with) the internal dynamics of one’s body. Introceptive Awareness can be trained.
  • Meditation – Broadly embraced and diversely interpreted, Meditation refers to any technique associated with training or focusing attention (e.g., on an activity or an object), usually to promote well-being by addressing stress, depression, or other disruption, and often to gain insight into oneself and/or one’s world. Types of Meditation include:
    • Mindfulness Meditation – a type of Meditation aimed at becoming more attuned to sensory information, typically by focusing on breathing, thoughts, and sensations as they present themselves to consciousness
    • Concentrative Meditation – a type of Meditation with a specific focus – a thought, image, sound, phrase, sensation, etc. – in which, ideally, all unrelated thoughts are excluded from consciousness
    • Transcendental Meditation – a profound sort of Concentrative Meditation based on ancient Hindu writings that is typically described in terms of permitting access to deeper levels of the mind and to the source of being
  • Mindful Learning (Ellen Langer, 2010s) – Based on a conception of “mindful” as being able to draw novel distinctions and offer inventive interpretations, Mindful Learning involves developing greater sensitivities to one’s habits of thinking and one’s context while being oriented toward new, more expansive and less constraining possibilities for knowing, doing, and being.
  • Presencing (Joseph Mede, mid-1600s) – as might be inferred, the action of making (something) present. Most contemporary references have to do with bringing one’s self into – that is, to summon a mindful awareness of ­– the historicity and possibility represented in the present situation/moment. The notion has roots in mystical, spiritual, and wisdom traditions – both eastern and western.
  • Psychonautics – the exploration of altered states of consciousness, especially but not exclusively for spiritual purposes, as effected by meditation, substance, sensory deprivation, and/or extreme activity
  • Senseforaging – attending mindfully to one’s bodily sensations
  • Social-Affective Learning – a term encompassing a variety of teaching emphases aimed at addressing emotional difficulties and social challenges that might be encountered by students

Most often, Mindfulness Discourses are associated with non-western philosophies and traditions. Prominent among these are the following:

  • Ayurvedic – from Sanskrit ayur (“life) + veda (“knowledge”), a holistic healing system that follows the natural cycles of the body, the day, and the seasons. That is, Ayurvedic aims to promote health by entwining diet, sleep patterns, meditation, and yoga.
  • Buddhism (Dharmavinaya; Buddha Dharma) (Siddhartha Gautama, c. 500 BCE) – from the Sanskrit for “awakened one,” Buddhism holds that one should strive for a transformation of consciousness so as not to be mastered by wants, needs, and desires. Buddhist enlightenment is associated with an “eightfold path,” which includes right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right views, and right intentions. Associated perspectives include:
    • Zen Buddhism (c. 400 BCE) – a version of Buddhism in which the quest for enlightenment is through direct, intuitive experience (mediated, e.g., by motionless meditation or contemplation of insoluble paradoxes) intended to make one aware of the limitations of language and to help one transcend rational, instrumental thought
  • Medicine Wheel (North American Indigenous, ancient) – anchored to a meaning of “medicine” as practices, engagements, and attitudes that foster well-being and healthy relations, a Medicine Wheel is a physical representation of an integrated, holistic worldview. There are many variations, but many Medicine Wheels comprise four categories: Spiritual (communion with grander aspect of reality and being), Physical (air, water, food, shelter, health, activity, intimacy), Emotional (recognition, acceptance, privacy limits, love), Intellectual (self-discipline, thoughts, concepts, habits, skills)
  • Yoga – from the Sanskrit Yuj “to yoke, to join, to unite,” and rooted in Hindu traditions, Yoga is about living with freedom in all aspects of life and health and harmonizing oneself with/in the universe. Westernization of Yoga tend to emphasize the role of bodily postures and breathing as means to achieve deep contemplation by focusing and redirecting energy, but “Yoga of the threefold path” offers that there are multiple routes to self-realization and freedom. The practitioner can follow one path or some combination of paths. They all lead to the same place:
    • Jñāna Yoga – concerned with thoughts; the path of knowledge, wisdom, and direct realization (Jñāna has the same root as the ancient Greek gnosis, and the same holist, nondualist sense. See Gnoseology, in the Epistemology entry.)
    • Karma Yoga – concerned with deeds. Karma Yoga is about selfless action (See Karma, in the Epistemology entry.)
    • Bhakti Yoga – concerned with faith. Bhakti Yoga is about loving devotion, surrender, and trust.
Several programs have been developed to support Mindfulness practices. Those with some prominence in education (listed chronologically) include:
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1970s) – a program that employs a range of Mindfulness practices – including meditation, yoga, somatic breathing, and reflexive examination of patterns of acting, thinking, and feeling – to help individuals address stress, anxiety
  • Mindfulness-Based Wellness Education (MBWE) (Corey Mackenzie, Geoff Soloway, Patricia Poulin, 2000s) – a program intended for teachers and other human-service professionals that aims to cultivate one’s awareness of wellness across physical, cognitive, social, emotional, relational, professional, spiritual, and ecological dimensions
  • Community Approach to Learning Mindfully (CALM) (Deb Schussler, 2010s) – a program involving brief training sessions in Mindfulness that happen just before the school day starts and that focus on intentional breathing, gentle yoga, and intention setting
  • Comprehensive Approach to Learning Mindfulness (CALM) (Tish Jennings, 2020s) – a program involving brief daily interventions that include yoga, somatic breathing, intention-setting, and caring practices


As with many popular trends, the Mindfulness movement has its issues. For the most part, the criticisms surrounding Mindfulness tend to be linked to matters of cultural appropriation. While relatively few commentators see Mindfulness as inherently problematic, many see the attempt to transpose a practice that is grounded in Buddhist ethics into a culture that is radically individualistic as naïve, disrespectful, and potentially damaging. Other critics have pointed to the similarity between traditional education’s conception of the model student (quiet, focused, etc.) and the ideals of many Mindfulness practices.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Thích Nhất Hahn; Richard J. Davidson; John Kabat-Zinn

Status as a Theory of Learning

While not readily placed in western categories, Mindfulness is appropriately described as a theory of learning – albeit concerned with categories of learning that are not typically considered in discussions of formal education (in which matters of emotional well-being are typically dissociated from matters of conceptual understanding).

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Mindfulness is not a theory of teaching, although some currently popular versions of it in education position Mindfulness as a curriculum focus and/or learning outcome.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Mindfulness and its associated practices are established as important themes in psychological and medical research. Multiple meta-analyses of published research have suggested that, properly engaged, they can consistently contribute to significant improvements to mental well-being and are often associated with improvements in physical health. The research in education is generally more diverse and less robust, but published results are usually reflective of the broader research literature.


  • Affective Learning (Emotional Learning)
  • Alpha-Wave Training (Alpha Biofeedback; Alpha Neurofeedback)
  • Ayurvedic
  • Bhakti Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Buddhism (Dharmavinaya; Buddha Dharma)
  • Community Approach to Learning Mindfully (CALM)
  • Comprehensive Approach to Learning Mindfulness (CALM)
  • Concentrative Meditation
  • Contemplative Pedagogy
  • Contemplative Practices
  • Decoded Neurofeedback (DecNef)
  • Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku)
  • Fully Functioning Person (Existential Living)
  • Holistic Education (Helping Model)
  • Introceptive Awareness (Introception)
  • Jñāna Yoga
  • Karma Yoga
  • Medicine Wheel
  • Meditation
  • Mind Machine (Brain Machine; Light and Sound Machine)
  • Mindful Learning
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
  • Mindfulness-Based Wellness Education (MBWE)
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Neurofeedback (EEG Biofeedback; Neurofeedback; Neurotherapy)
  • Presencing
  • Psychonautics
  • Senseforaging
  • Social-Affective Learning
  • Transcendental Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Zen Buddhism

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2024). “Mindfulness” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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