Mindfulness on the Digital Horizon

Photo by Gary Bendig

I am certainly no technophobe and have even been considered an “early adopter” of technology among psychologists. But, so far I have felt a nagging sense of resistance to, and a feeling of sadness around, taking Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness (MAM) offerings online. MAM teaches mindful awareness through a combination of experiential and interpersonally-based learning modalities. So far we have done this almost exclusively live and face to face. But, we also recognize that it is impossible for some people to come to us. This is why we are beginning to explore the possibility of virtual and distance learning and practice experiences.

My concerns about going online are not meant for those who cannot, for whatever reason, attend live events and community practices. Meeting online, for a great number of people, is the only way they can realistically participate. For these individuals, the virtual community can be a lifeline. I also recognize I am not a digital native and my ideas about human connection may be rather outdated. But, I can’t help but ask myself, what happens when, on the sole basis of preference, we curate the inconvenience of face-to-face interactions in our learning, practice and daily lives?

Convenience is a powerful draw. After all, this is why our oceans are choked with plastic bags and straws. I have personally watched the emergence of online offerings suck the lifeblood out of in-person classes. In fact, Higher Education Reports on Online and Distance Eduction indicate that between 2012 and 2016, the total number of students studying strictly on a physical college campus dropped by more than 1 million, or over 6%. On the other hand, very few of my clients choose to use the e-therapy I offer them as their primary mode of contact with me. Most prefer to meet in person if they can. They have been able to discern for themselves what is most useful to them.

Mindfulness and yoga classes, retreats and practice meetings have been for me a consistent sanctuary from the incessant distraction of the digital world – places where I can connect with community in a special way, without my “therapist hat” on. I’m online a lot, either working with folks therapeutically, or in an effort to increase awareness of mindfulness in general, or to inform about MAM offerings in particular. There seems to me a noticeable difference in the quality of connection, but its difficult to explain as it seems intangible – something that just doesn’t transmit over cables and airwaves. My guess is that its the quality of attention. But, I realize its better than nothing.

It is said that geese fly together in formation and that the lead goose makes the flying easier for the others, and each goose in front of the other also helps the geese behind – and they all take turns. I think [a practice community] is a lot like that – when we sit together, our presence together creates a slipstream for others – to support their practice and our practice together. It is mutually beneficial – and a field seems to be created… it’s palpable. Imagine aligning all of our energetic focus – that has to do something to the energy within a room… – anonymous commenter

Might we consider using the online network to enhance our learning and practice rather than letting it be the exclusive modality? The research on online mindfulness training is very limited so far, but here is a brief summary of what we think we know:

  • Online courses give us more flexibility in terms of time, access, and transportation, but require more self-discipline, sense of personal responsibility, and self-direction.
  • Participants and teachers alike must feel comfortable with the technology used and have the resources needed to implement and receive it effectively
  • Though measured outcomes are generally equivalent, attendance, adherence, and satisfaction seem to be higher in face-to-face offerings
  • A hybrid of online and face-to-face learning may be best

Regardless of my opinion, whenever I get that “rock in the stream” feeling of resistance, I hear the voices of my mindfulness mentors and teachers suggesting I become more like a feather. They would ask me to consider adopting a beginner’s mind, letting go of preconceived notions, being patient and taking a “thousand year view”, trusting experience to be as it is, in its own way, and in its own time. So, rather than digging my heels in, I am following the internalized advice of my teachers – and I’m genuinely curious to see how it all unfolds. Keep your eyes open for some online opportunities to learn about and practice mindfulness with MAM coming soon.


  • Higher Education Reports – Online and Distance Education
  • Esteban Sard-Peck, E., Tomás & Martín-Asuero, Andrés & Teresa Oller, Maria & Calvo, Ana & Santesteban-Echarri, Olga. (2018).Face-to-face versus online program: A comparative study of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in a general Spanish population. 10.13140/RG.2.2.19327.30885.
  • Lima, M. L., Marques, S., Muiños, G., & Camilo, C. (2017).All You Need Is Facebook Friends? Associations between Online and Face-to-Face Friendships and HealthFrontiers in psychology8, 68.
  • Molinari, Carol & Freshman, Brenda & Tan, Rae Yunzi. (2015). Mindful awareness training in online and face-to-face learning environments: A comparative analysis. Journal of Health Administration Education. 32. 579-604.
  • Spijkerman, MP, Pots, WT, & Bohlmeijer, ET (2016). Effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in improving mental health: A review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clinical Psychology Review; Volume 45, April 2016, Pages 102-114
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