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What Makes a Good Mindfulness Coach?

by Daniel Goleman, source:

Choosing a mindfulness mentor


The central question right now for both long-time mindfulness practitioners and individuals and organizations looking for mindfulness training is: What makes a good mindfulness coach?

Mirabai Bush, Senior Fellow and the founding Director of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, has taught mindfulness methods for many years to a variety of organizations – Google, Hearst Publications, AMEX, to name a few. She offers some insights for organizations looking for such services, and for what it takes to be an effective coach.

Mindful presence

When you’re interviewing potential teachers or coaches, notice whether the person is in the moment, without judgment, and really present for you. Be aware that there are many different styles for teachers of mindfulness. The person should embody qualities and competencies that you are looking for in your group or yourself. Humility and a sense of humor are usually good signs.

Are they trained?

Before people begin to teach mindfulness, they should do significant practice, not just in mindfulness but in teaching mindfulness. There are several reputable training programs available:


Are they ready?

Like any hiring process, ask them about their experience. There are many people who want to start teaching right after they learn it. After spending some time practicing – or even after some formal training – it’s easy to assume, “Oh, I could teach people to sit down and bring their attention to their breath and breathe in and out. Anybody can teach that.”

But that is not true. You can read the techniques in a book or listen to a CD and probably learn some from it. But teaching mindfulness is different from practicing mindfulness.

Can they coach?

With mindfulness coaching and training in an organization, you’re asking your team to look inside themselves and begin an inquiry into the parts of our minds, bodies and hearts that most of us ignore most of the time. That’s profound. You really want to have someone you can trust to lead you through that exercise.

That’s very important because many people haven’t done any practice that takes them into their inner lives. A teacher or coach needs training and experience in answering the students’ questions: What if intense thoughts come up? Am I doing it wrong? I can’t do it because my mind is racing. Oh, I fell asleep. Am I going to become totally self-centered? How can I find time to do this? If I’m not judging, how will I make decisions?

Mirabai Bush is Senior Fellow and the founding Director of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a non-profit organization that encourages contemplative awareness in American life in order to create a more just, compassionate, and reflective society. Learn more about her latest CD, Working with Mindfulness.

Listen to Mirabai’s interview about a mindful workplace with Leadership Development News.


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A Mindful Workplace: Shifting from Difficulty to Opportunity

Praxis You

Mirabai Bush, co-founder of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and long-time mindfulness coach for organizations, has noticed the positive impact mindfulness techniques can have on employees throughout her 40+ year career. Below is an excerpt of her conversation with Elad Levinson, creator and facilitator of the upcoming Praxis You course, Thriving on Change.

Benefits of a Mindful Workplace

“When I began introducing mindfulness methods to co-workers or clients, the most noticeable shift was that people became more present with difficulty. They didn’t repress it or push it away. They were better able to say, “Okay, here’s a difficult situation. What are our options? What are the possibilities? What can we do with it?” I began to see a calmness and acceptance in difficult moments.

People also started to accept change with more ease. As you may know, when we practice mindfulness, we learn to see that everything is changing all the time. We watch our mind and our body. We notice thoughts and physical sensations rise and fall away. Sensations are changing. Ideas are changing. We become much more comfortable with change.

When I first started working with Google, I was intrigued by a real-time projection of what people were Googling. The whole wall was a projection of all these questions, phrases and fragments going up the wall, and then disappearing. I thought, “This is the global mind at work.” Just the way you watch your own mind in meditation, you’re getting to watch what the global mind is thinking and letting go of.

Back to coping with change. When I worked with a large chemical company in the mid-”˜90s, there was always a possibility they were going to be bought by somebody else. It was that period of mergers and acquisitions. The employees were always really worried about job security. I would focus our mindfulness practice retreats on dealing with change.

We discovered that the more comfortable we become with change, the more we can just be with whatever arises. Including a job loss. And that’s not to minimize that such a change could cause suffering. But we’d be able to be there with that suffering. That presence and awareness was huge in terms of developing leaders.”

Praxis You

Sign up for More Than Sound’s free newsletter to learn how and when to register for my Praxis You course, Thriving on Change. Email to sign up.

Take a Survey

To help us develop useful, practical courses for you, please take a few moments to complete a very short survey. As a thank you, we’ll give you free access to module one of our first course, Thriving on Change. Be sure to provide your email address when you’re done with the survey.


Mirabai Bush on founding The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Mirabai Bush and Daniel Goleman on the importance of self-awareness and self-regulation

Coping with Change guided exercise

Practice Emotional Intelligence

Additional Resources

Working with Mindfulness: Research and Practice of Mindful Techniques in Organizations

Working with Mindfulness Guided Audio Exercises (CD or digital download)

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence



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It’s Time to Demystify Meditation

Meditation’s Unlikely Champion

Dan Harris, co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline, had a panic attack on air several years ago. As he recounts in his latest NPR interview, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

“My heart started racing. My mind was racing. My palms were sweating. My mouth dried up. My lungs seized up. I just couldn’t breathe,” he remembered.

After the ordeal, Dan discussed ways to address his panic attacks and stress with friends and health providers. Meditation was frequently suggested. But Harris remained a skeptic. “That’s only for people who are into crystals and Cat Stevens, use the word namaste un-ironically, and live in a yurt.”

Meditation still has a “bad rap” as too weird or difficult. But fortunately that’s changing. What helped changed Dan’s mind was the growing neuroscience research on the real benefits of this ancient practice.

Talk About the Research

Mirabai Bush and Daniel Goleman spoke about their experience of introducing mindfulness techniques to secular audiences – including the US Army. Here’s an excerpt from their discussion in the new print edition of Working with Mindfulness: Research and Practice of Mindful Techniques in Organizations.

Mirabai Bush: For a long time there was a lot of resistance to introducing mindful techniques in some of the organizations I worked with. But as soon as people agree to try it, the benefits become very obvious. Participants become more calm, more clear. They begin to have better insight into what’s happening, and they begin to get along better with the people they’re working with. So once people agree to try it, there’s really no problem. But there is still resistance to trying it, although much less since the publication of the neuroscientific research on mindfulness. All the work that’s come from Richard Davidson and others has really helped people get past a certain level of resistance and skepticism.

Daniel Goleman: I can give you a little background on that change. You mentioned Davidson. He is now a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Richard and I were fellow graduate students at Harvard. He was the other one who was interested in meditation. He did his dissertation on attention and so on, and he has gone on to develop a field called Contemplative Neuroscience, which has upgraded the quality of the research on mindfulness and meditation.

Until Richard’s work, frankly, some was great, and some was terrible. Now this research is using fMRIs and state-of-the-art brain imaging. What it’s showing is what we knew intuitively when we were in India, which is that these practices can be quite transformative. And if you practice them a lot, it’s really transformative. If you practice a little, it’s still transformative.

What we found in the research on relaxation was that one of the byproducts of focusing your mind is that your body lets go and relaxes. And the reason it lets go is that one of the things that keeps us stressed is these tight loops of thoughts and ruminations — ”what’s on my mind, what’s upsetting me” — which are hard to let go. Meditation training, whether it’s mindfulness or any other kind of meditation, teaches you how to drop those upsetting thoughts. Our understanding is that it’s the letting go of those thoughts, putting your mind in a neutral or present place and keeping it there, that causes the body to be able to drop the tension, let go of the stress, and then get deeply relaxed.

10% Happier

Harris’ positive experience with meditation led him to write a book: 10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found self-help That Actually Works – A True Story.  The somewhat tongue-in-cheek title says it all. The hard-nosed reporter is still grappling with his new “identity” as a meditator. But the benefits aren’t lost on him, and he wants to encourage others – especially the chronically stressed, highly driven professional like him – to think twice before scoffing at the idea of sitting still to notice your breath.

He talks more about the book’s mission in the interview. “I honestly believe meditation is the next big public health revolution. The big problem is that there’s this PR issue around meditation. People think it’s either too weird or too difficult. And so my goal is to dispel both myths and to say, A, if a skeptic like me is doing it, you can do it. And, B, if somebody with the attention span of a kitten, like me, is doing it, you can, too.”



Meditation: Breathing New Life into an Ancient Practice

What Mindfulness Is – and Isn’t

What Makes a Good Mindfulness Coach?

Mindfulness at Work: An Interview with Mirabai Bush


What is Meditation? It’s Not What You Think

Bringing Mindfulness to the Mainstream

Mindfulness at Google


Guided Exercise: Sensory Focus

Focus and Leadership

Finding Time for Mindfulness

Books, Audio, Video:

Working with Mindfulness (CD and download)

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence

Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth

Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress



Mirabai Bush

Mirabai Bush was a co-founder of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, where she served as the Executive Director until 2008. She helps organizations (such as Omega Institute, Naropa Institute, Zen Mountain Monastery, Lama Foundation, and the University of Massachusetts) apply the lessons she’s learned from her unique background in organizational management, teaching, and spiritual practice in workshops, weekends, and retreats. She has a special interest in the uncovering and recovery of women’s spiritual wisdom to inform work for social change. She has also worked on educational programs with inner-city youth of color.

Mirabai is also a founding board member of the Seva Foundation, an international public health organization, and directed the Seva Guatemala Project, which supports sustainable agriculture and integrated community development. Also at Seva, she co-developed Sustaining Compassion, Sustaining the Earth, a series of retreats and events for grassroots environmental activists on the interconnection of spirit and action.

Mirabai holds a Masters in Medieval Studies from Georgetown, an ABD in American Literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She studied in India for two years with Hindu teacher Neemkaroli Baba, as well as meditation in monasteries under the tutelage of Buddhist teachers and Tibetan Buddhist lamas. She has also been practicing intensive Iyengar yoga and five years of Aikido under Kanai Sensei. She was the first professional woman to work on the Saturn-Apollo Moonflight at Cape Canaveral. She also co-founded and directed Illuminations, Inc. She’s been featured in publications such as Newsweek, Inc., Fortune, and Boston Business Journal. She is an organic gardener in Western Massachusetts, and the mother of one son, Owen.

Facebook   â—Š   LinkedIn

At More Than Sound, Mirabai has written Working with Mindfulness (print, audio), as well as Working with Mindfulness: Research and Practice of Mindful Techniques in Organizations.

She’s also a guest lecturer for Elad Levinson‘s online course at Praxis You titled, Thriving on Changeas well as a co-instructor for his ebook Learning to Dance on Jello.

Her books are a part of the Competency Builder bundle.


Other Publications:

Contemplation Nation (anthology, editor)   â—Š   Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service (co-wrote with Ram Dass)   â—Š   Contemplative Actions in Higher Education (co-wrote with Daniel P. Barbezat)