3 Tips to Effectively Teach Mindfulness Live Online

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By Ted Meissner

Ted Meissner will be hosting an Expert Workshop, Teaching Mindfulness Live Online: Challenges and Opportunities, on April 2nd. Click here to learn more. 

With the advent of COVID-19, many if not most mindfulness teachers have faced a difficult choice.  Either deliver their programs online instead of in-person or stop teaching.  In some ways, it's not much of a choice at all, particularly if it's the only source of income, a personal passion, or if a considerable investment of time and resources have been devoted to becoming the best teacher possible.

Had the pandemic occurred with the technology level of a scant twenty years ago, mindfulness teaching would have been severely curtailed even for the larger institutions and academic settings.  Live video of an entire class would not have been an option, leaving only asynchronous emails or posts on relatively new and unknown bulletin boards.  Recordings would likely have been hard copy CDs sent through snail mail to those who apply and are accepted, but that's only after reaching participants and marketing the programs primarily through print, word of mouth, or even cold calling via telephone.  Independent teachers during a pandemic would have had an even harder time.

Much as technology can be challenging and sometimes seem intentionally fickle, the simple fact remains that current technology has permitted a shift many had not contemplated.  Some early adopters of live online programming were well versed in the nuances of mindfulness delivery via computer or mobile device, and education in general did not have to end during the pandemic as it shifted to online learning.  It was a steep learning curve for schools that had yet to embrace such capabilities, as well as businesses, government institutions, down to just how we connected with our loved ones. 

With that change has come opportunity, particularly for independent teachers.  No longer excluded from fairly competing with larger organizations due to the high cost of single-use physical space rental, the delivery and marketing of mindfulness courses has become a more level playing field almost overnight.  Armed with a relatively inexpensive Zoom account and a free personal page on social media to host files, market, and engage with potential participants, a teacher can deliver the same core mindfulness curriculum as easily as an Ivy League university, and sometimes with much more flexibility and responsiveness.

Whether a teacher has enthusiastically accepted technology or has been pushed unwillingly into the deep end of the pool, it can be surprising at how open these doors have become.  But it's not just getting Zoom set up and away you go; there are important aspects with live online delivery which do differ from in-person class time.  Acknowledging those differences, understanding them, and learning how to meet them can make or break a mindfulness program for you as the teacher and especially for your participants.  Here are three pointers to get you started:

1. Check Your Biases 

Let's name it: before the pandemic, most of us have only taught mindfulness in-person.  We're most familiar and most comfortable with sharing physical space with our participants, and that may have fostered the attitude — exacerbated if you're only using technology grudgingly at best — that in-person is "better" than live online.  People are very skilled at picking up on subtle attitudes and if that's where you're coming from it will shade the entire course.  Reminding yourself of some benefits only possible with live online teaching can help shift you to enthusiastically modeling mindfulness in this virtual space.  How you are, the person or the teacher, is every bit as important teaching online as it is in-person.

This can also lead to missing the new opportunities for interacting that come with an online class. Your potential participant base expands to anyone with an internet connection and device, allowing your program to reach others in other towns, states, and countries. Online courses are also open to disenfranchised people without easy access to transportation.  Teachers can make use of chat, whiteboards, and can enrichen didactic segments with more lively graphics and dynamic examples.  If a teacher continues to resist technology that has become a must, you may miss what can take a class from good to great. 

2. Adjust Your Program

More than just making sure you understand how to use your computer's sound and video, some other aspects of your mindfulness class will likely need a bit of tweaking to continue their beneficial impact on participants.  While breakout rooms can replicate the more personal nature of dyads and small groups, how you equip your students for those exercises makes a difference for their learning.  Mindful movement may require you to change the layout of your teaching space at home, and encouraging students to consider their own immediate environment ahead of time can help them adjust more easily, too.

Make sure you can be seen with appropriate lighting facing you, avoiding being shrouded in unintentional darkness caused by light behind you. Adjust the height of your camera to about eye level so you’re not “looming” over them as you look down from where your computer’s camera lens may normally be positioned.  For mindful movement, stepping further back from the computer may require a bit more space free from clutter, and the use of a wireless over-the-ear microphone and earbud removes the need to raise your voice to be heard.  And don’t forget the informal arrival time and after-class time is important; open class early and stick around after to replicate the social impact of light conversation that happens in-person when people show up or head out for the evening. There’s still a room, be in it!

For other ideas and reflections, please see Mary Beth Stern’s article From the Circle to the Square: Moving MBSR Online.

3. Practice With Others 

You've taken mindfulness classes, completed years of teacher training, and been on countless retreats in-person, which may equip you quite well for teaching that way but doesn't help much for teaching online.  Most of us lack the experience of what it's like to be a student in an online mindfulness course.  Round out your education by joining live online sit groups, particularly those that meet regularly, have guided formal practice, and take time for inquiry.  Mindful Leader offers Meditate Together to practice with others, and many of the teachers here hold their own community “sits.”

Ted Meissner created the UMass Medical School Center for Mindfulness MBSR live online program, is a Certified MBSR Teacher, and has been teaching mindfulness for over twenty years. He is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science, has been published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Mindful, and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He mentors MBSR teachers, holds Masterclasses for Oxford Mindfulness Centre on live online mindfulness program delivery, and is the Executive Director of Mindfulness Practice Center.

Ted Meissner will be hosting an Expert Workshop, Teaching Mindfulness Live Online: Challenges and Opportunities, on April 2nd. Click here to learn more. 

4 comments

Bill Cropper

Thanks Ted for your wise recommendations about moving to online

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Claire Rhode Staff

Thank you for your comment, Bill! 

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Blake Cason

These are great!  I have been teaching online for quite awhile, is the workshop going to serve more advanced practice of online teaching?  Or more for beginners?

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Claire Rhode Staff

Hi Blake, thanks for your question. I checked in with Ted and he says yes, this will cover more advanced options while still referring to some basics, and is an experiential class. We will be learning from each other as well.

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