Sunday, November 9, 2014

Teaching Mindfulness with Integrity (interview)

photo courtesy Dr. Amy Saltzman
Amy Saltzman, M.D., director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education, is a pioneer in the fields of holistic medicine and mindfulness for youth. Dr. Saltzman is the author of A Still Quiet Place and the creator of a 10-week Online Practicum for K-12 Educators. Her CDs Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children, and Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Teens are available via itunes, Amazon, and

Why did you decide to integrate mindfulness into your medical practice? How has it benefited your patients?

I chose to integrate mindfulness into my medical practice because many diseases are stress induced, or made worse by stress, and as a young physician in training I was frustrated by senior physicians who would tell patients that they had done all they could for them, and the patients would “have to learn to live with it.” Mindfulness teaches patients how to live with illness.

Melli O’Brien mentioned in a recent interview that the increasing popularity of mindfulness has led to some concerns about the quality of teaching. In your opinion, what’s the best way to ensure high-quality mindfulness instruction? 

I agree, as mindfulness becomes more popular it is very wise and absolutely necessary that we insure high quality teaching. The essential foundation of high quality teaching is a long term, formal, devoted, daily, mindfulness practice. 

If someone wants to share mindfulness with others and has any uncertainty about the definition of any of those terms in relationship to mindfulness, I strongly encourage them to read Chapter 2 in my book A Still Quiet Place, titled Finding Your Way: Paths to Teaching and Facilitating, which offers recommended steps for developing an personal practice, and the skills for sharing mindfulness with others.

What kind of training do you include in the Still Quiet Place Online Practicum, and how do you select participants?

No surprise, given my previous answer, people interested taking my training complete an application in which they describe their previous and current mindfulness practice (including retreat experience), their work with children and adolescents, their interest in the course, and their learning edge/challenges in sharing mindfulness with children.

Occasionally I receive an application from someone who is already teaching mindfulness and does not have an established practice. In that case I require and support them in establishing a practice so that they can teach with integrity.

The course includes the following every week:

  • Watch 1 hour video of me teaching 4th graders 
  • Read related chapters in A Still Quiet Place
  • Listen to related tracks on my children’s and teen CDs
  • Lead a practice and receive feedback from a different partner in the course
  • Lead and receive feedback on a practice for the entire group (1x during the course)
  • Participate in 1 ½ hour webinar where we discuss the video, reading, recorded practices, partner practice, group practice, and any and all questions regarding establishing and maintaining a mindfulness program in a school or in a community setting. 

In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of bringing in outside experts vs. having teachers lead mindfulness activities in their own classrooms?

I feel the ideal situation is for teachers to receive mindfulness in their pre-service training to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue, enhance their overall well-being, and prepare them to share mindfulness with their students throughout the school day and school year. 

Since this is currently not the case, and the number of students and classrooms that could benefit from mindfulness far outstrips the number of teachers with established mindfulness practices and the skills to share mindfulness with youth, there is a role for outside providers. The pluses of well chosen outside providers are that they have established practices and the skills to deliver programs. The minus is they are outsiders, and thus cannot reinforce the lessons throughout the school day. 

The pluses of having classroom teachers deliver programs are that they really know their students and can reinforce the lessons throughout the day. The minuses are that they may not have a personal practice and so the practices can be very formulaic and misrepresented. 

Mindfulness is all about being responsive, so a program that relies on classroom teachers delivering scripts is at best a diluted version of the practice. 

Again, a more complete discussion of these issues appears in various sections in A Still Quiet Place… Chapter 13, Notes and Cautions, has specific comments to support teachers and therapists in integrating mindfulness into their settings, and addresses some common issues in both school and therapeutic settings.

What does “mindful teaching” mean to you?

The definition I offer young people is “Mindfulness is paying attention here and now, with kindness and curiosity, and then choosing your behavior.” 

The simple phrase “here and now” supports people of all ages in coming into their present-moment experience, not thinking about the past, or fantasizing or worrying about the future. "With kindness and curiosity" describes the quality of our attention. Without this suggestion most of us have a tendency to beat ourselves up.

So if a teacher is attending to her/his inward experience- thoughts feelings, physical sensations, and the outer experience- level of energy, distress, engagement, conflict in individual students and the entire classroom then s/he has the information to choose how to respond. S/he might say- “wow there is a lot of energy in the room, lets do a quick movement practice," or “I notice a lot of people talking; please re-focus your attention on your work.”

Mindful teaching means responding skillfully to inner and outer circumstances moment-by-moment.

What do you do in your own personal mindfulness practice, and how does it help you with your work?

I usually do at least 30 minutes of formal mindfulness practice every day. Because I am a working mother of teenagers, I occasionally miss a day. 
J I also sit one silent retreat a year. 

As described before, having a devoted ongoing personal practice allows me to be aware of what is happening internally (for example to notice the first whispers of anger), to open to what is happening externally, bringing my kind and curious attention to what might be going on for a student, patient, or my own child, and then to respond with kindness, compassion, and wisdom, most but definitely not all of the time. 


related posts:

A Still Quiet Place (recommended book)

Emotion Improv (sample activity from A Still Quiet Place)

The Importance of Mindful Teachers (interview)

Teaching For-Credit Mindfulness Classes (interview)

If you like this post, please share it using the social media buttons below.


  1. I just discovered this post. Although it's from last year, I really enjoyed it.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Evelyn. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Hi, Thank you for the post , most interesting and of great use as i am exploring the ways of becoming involved with this teaching here in Australia ..

    1. I'm so glad you found the post useful. I highly recommend Dr. Saltzman's book A Still Quiet Place:

      You might also be interested in these interviews with Australian mindfulness teachers:

    2. HI Catherine, Thank you so much for the reply and info ..... I will certainly look into them...

      cheers Dave

    3. HI Catherine, Just wanting to share. I have commenced Dr Amy's still quiet space training.... It is amazing and only into the first week.... Such a brilliant opportunity

      Thanks Dave