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De-Mystifying Mindfulness

Leiden University via Coursera


Interest in meditation, mindfulness, and contemplation has grown exponentially in recent years. Rather than being seen as mystical practices from ancient Buddhism or esoteric philosophy, they are increasingly seen as technologies rooted in evidence from psychology and neuroscience. Mindfulness has become the basis for numerous therapeutic interventions, both as a treatment in healthcare and as a means of enhancing well-being and happiness. For millions around the world, mindfulness has become a life-style choice, enhancing and enriching everyday experience. Mindfulness is big business.

But, what actually is mindfulness? Is it really good for you? Can anyone learn it? How can you recognize charlatans? Would you want to live in a mindful society, and would it smell like sandalwood? What does it feel like to be mindful? Are you mindful already, and how would you know?

Evolving from the popular Honours Academy course at Leiden University, this innovative course combines conventional scholarly inquiry from multiple disciplines (ranging from psychology, through philosophy, to politics) with experiential learning (including specially designed ‘meditation labs,’ in which you’ll get chance to practice and analyze mindfulness on yourself). In the end, the course aims to provide a responsible, comprehensive, and inclusive education about (and in) mindfulness as a contemporary phenomenon.

During the production of this course, we have been supported by Willem Kuyken, Director of the University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre, and Stephen Batchelor, co-founder of Bodhi College. And we gratefully acknowledge the contributions made by Mark Williams, co-developer of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Rebecca Crane, Director of the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at the University of Bangor. We have recently added expert advice from Dawn Scott (Spirit Rock & Barre Centre for Buddhist Studies), Sydney Spears (University of Kansa), Elisabeth Stanley (Georgetown University), Susan Woods (Centre for Mindfulness Studies), Patricia Rockman (University of Toronto) and Jeff Corntassel (University of Victoria).

"A deep and profound dive into the ethical, social, psychological, and philosophical implications of modern-day mindfulness practice. The course is not for the faint of heart, perhaps, but it is also full of practical, guided exercises for the uninitiated! Thank you for redefining my relationship to Mindfulness in a completely new and thought-provoking way" 28 april 2021

"The course enabled me to explore the mindfulness construct at its deeper lever from philosophical, psychological and political lenses. The mindfulness labs were very useful in practicing the skills of being mindful." 23 nov 2018

"i took this course after a period of time when I was trying to practice mindfulness and meditation, but with doubtful success. The course answered many questions to me, and I needed that to keep me motivated. It really helped me understand the origins and, more importantly, benefits of mindfulness practice and made me persist in my attempts. I'm really glad I took the course, I find it interesting, well taught and very useful for all those seeking deeper explanation in why trying mindfulness." 9 Oct 2018

"I have taken other courses in other online platforms. However, this has been one of the best courses I have found online." 3 Oct 2018

"I really like the invitation to us, the learners, to rethink our preconceptions and beliefs, and then make our own judgement about mindfulness. The overall tone was very friendly and open, resources very useful." 12 Dec 2017


  • Welcome to the course
    • People come to the study of Mindfulness for all kinds of reasons; I’m curious to know what brings you here. Perhaps you’re someone who already has a Mindfulness practice and you’re keen to know more about it? Perhaps you’re someone who has heard a lot about this mysterious thing called ‘Mindfulness,’ but you’re suspicious or skeptical about it, so you want to see what all the fuss is about? Is it really something real? Just a fad or fashion? Does it really cure all our ills? Perhaps you’re a student of psychology, or philosophy, or politics, or you’re an entrepreneur or a therapist? Whoever you are, and whyever you’re here, you’re very welcome. I look forward to learning about and from you as we embark on this adventure together.

      'De-Mystifying Mindfulness' was first launched in 2016 and, since that time, it has been honoured by the participation of about 200,000 people on Coursera. During these years, we have listened carefully to the views, feedback, and needs of the participants, which have prompted us to make a series of changes and additions to the course. Thanks to the generosity of our donors (through our voluntary 'dana' box), we had the resources we needed to make the additions. So, as well as some minor changes, we've launched 2 major rounds of updates, including adding extra materials about sitting with difficulties and about the challenges of teaching mindfulness in 2019. We also added some extra audio files with meditation guidance for participants who requested these in the voice of Chris Goto-Jones. Then, in 2021, we added two entire new modules (Mindfulness, Trauma & Social Justice; Mindfulness, Nature and the Land), both of which included additional video and audio sessions. This 2021 update also included a new group of interviews with leading figures in the fields of the practice and study of Mindfulness. The result of these updates, we hope, is a responsive and relatively comprehensive guide to de-mystifying mindfulness; a side-effect might be that the style of presentation might sometimes seem a little inconsistent -- we hope that isn't too disconcerting for you.

      Good luck with the course, and best wishes for your new adventure!
  • Introduction to Mindfulness
    • In this first module, we’re going to explore the foundational question of what Mindfulness actually is! This module has been designed to approach this question by considering a series of preconceptions about Mindfulness in contemporary societies. Hence, here we meet the characters who will help and guide us through the rest of the course: the scientist, the monk, the ninja, the zombie, and the hippie. I hope you find these to be worthwhile companions on our journey. In the end, we’ll discover that these preconceptions are not without merit, but that they are only partial pictures of the whole. We’ll also engage in our first Meditation Lab so that we can begin to weigh these preconceptions against our own experiences. Begin working on the week's Meditation Lab exercises at the beginning of each week. Be prepared to set aside time each day for the exercises in the Meditation Labs. The exercises can range from just a few minutes to nearly an hour, as indicated on each of the guided meditation recordings.
  • Psychology of/& Mindfulness
    • One of the most significant developments in the field of Mindfulness in recent years has been the development of ‘construct Mindfulness’ as a therapeutic tool and as a scientific technology. Both of these rest upon (and produce) bodies of scientific evidence about the effects and correlates of Mindfulness practice, both in terms of therapy and neurophysiology. In this second module, then, we’re going to explore some of implications and elaborations of these approaches. We’ll see what happens to the idea of Mindfulness when we make it into something that can be measured, and then we’ll investigate some of the most popular (and effective) Mindfulness-based Interventions, such as MBSR and MBCT. In the end, we’ll also ask whether this operationalized approach to Mindfulness actually hides deeper philosophical, religious, and existential questions, to which we’ll turn in the next module.
  • Philosophy of/& Mindfulness
    • One of the great debates in the field of Mindfulness revolves around the question of the nature of its relationship with Buddhism. In this module, we consider some of the ways in which this relationship can be understood, including by paying attention to the fact that Buddhism is a diverse and multivocal tradition. Going even further, we explore the possibility that traditions of thought other than Buddhism might provide valuable insights into Mindfulness, ranging from Daoism through Stoicism to contemporary American philosophy.
  • Politics of/& Mindfulness
    • It is commonly assumed that Mindfulness is a solitary pursuit, and yet there is also often talk of a ‘Mindfulness Revolution,’ as though Mindfulness is also a social movement. In this module we’ll explore some of the ways in which the practice of Mindfulness might impact on ethical, social, and political issues today. We’ll ask questions about whether a Mindful society would really be a utopia, or whether it would be a nightmare. We’ll investigate the significance of Mindfulness in the military and in education, and finally we’ll attempt to engage with the meaning and significance of the commercialization of Mindfulness in capitalist societies.
  • Extra 2021: Mindfulness, Trauma and Social Justice
    • While there is a tendency today to view mindfulness as somehow sealed off from the rest of society, like a kind of ‘clean space’ or refuge in which we might sit to shelter from the social, political, economic, and cultural turmoil around us, mindfulness is actually just as entangled in these forces as anything else. Over the last few years, an increasing body of research has started to explore some of the ways in which these social forces and personal histories impact on the experience of mindfulness practice. Such research shows that the field of mindfulness cannot assume that everyone sits onto the same cushion in the same room. And some people just might not have a cushion at all. Hence, this module explores the intersections between mindfulness and trauma, as well as mindfulness, privilege, prejudice, and oppression. Here we see that mindfulness is not free of concerns about racism, sexism, ableism or other forms of systemic discrimination. Nonetheless, perhaps mindfulness contains some seeds to help us confront these social ills?

      We are fortunate to be able to include in this module a trauma-sensitive guided meditation by Elizabeth Stanley.
  • Extra 2021: Mindfulness and Nature & Land
    • One feature of contemporary mindfulness is that it is increasingly practiced in urban environments, in small rooms in big cities. This tendency has contributed to a form of romanticization of mindfulness in nature, as though practicing in a beautiful natural setting is somehow better or more ‘pure.’ We will see that this romantic view is not new at all, and also that it hides a much more complicated and subtle form of relationship between mindfulness and the natural world. In this module, we’ll explore some of the pros and cons of practicing in nature, as well as some of the myths about it. We’ll even learn a new meditation that is specifically designed to help us feel our place in nature. At the same time, as soon as we accept that the practice of mindfulness takes place in real locations (on particular territories or pieces of the earth), then we’ll see that we also have to accept that mindfulness is not free of questions of land politics and colonialism. What does it mean to practice mindfulness in a way that respects the land?
  • Mindfulness into the Future
    • In this last module, we’ll spend some time reflecting on the path we have travelled to get to this point. There is the additional content that learners requested and the community graciously financed. We’ll also consider some of the main challenges that we might have encountered, and also give some thought to what might come next for those of us who want to keep a Mindfulness practice in their lives.
  • Honours Project
    • Having come to the end of the regular programme, you might already be considering what you can do to continue the process of de-mystifying mindfulness for the world today. Perhaps you've identified a practice that really challenges you, or an idea that inspires you into action? Perhaps you're wondering whether your experiences and insights might also be valuable to other people; you're thinking of ways to test them or share them or both? This 'Honours Module' provides you with the opportunity to build on the knowledge we've accumulated and constructed over the previous weeks by creating original, new projects of your own. Successful completion of this project will mean that you will earn 'honours' on your certificate - the highest quality stamp available. More than that, your projects might make genuine and important contributions to our mission: building knowledge for a more mindful world.

Taught by

Chris Goto-Jones


4.8 rating, based on 95 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 1461 ratings

Start your review of De-Mystifying Mindfulness

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Great Course by Prof Dr. Chris Goto Jones of Leiden University. I started this course with a lot of reservations. I was thinking that might be it’s a waste of time. Earlier, I completed almost a dozen of online courses on different subjects and some of...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this course. It began by reviewing the stereotypes of mindfulness and then covering the earliest traditions through to modern times. Each module had a practice group of meditations, and this was, in my opinion, where the course excelled. Following the practices each day, improved my life for the better. There is a subjective evaluation at the beginning of the course and one at the end to measure several indicators in your life. The instructors and contributors are genuinely generous people. I strongly recommend this course for anyone wanting to improve their lives and the lives of those around them, as well as gaining an insight into the true nature of mindfulness.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I spent 17 years in the virtual learning industry as an online teacher and course developer, an IT Professional, and Professional Learning Project Manager, and I can tell you this course is the real deal. The course is very well built, Chris Goto-Jones...
  • Sylvia Amar completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    It is a very good course, reflecting to understand what is mindfulness, what implies personnaly and in the society. It provides too sessions to practise meditations.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous is taking this course right now.

    I dropped this course after just 1 wk when it became clear that the instructor is trying to bias his students against science with striking images, outlandish images, which studies have been shown to elicit a biased response, while the meditation instructors seek to make the students more susceptible to magical thinking by having them imagine outlandish things, such as breathing through their toes or through a blow hole in the top of their head during meditation. Do not take this course, unless you want to be manipulated. I recommend the very good course, Buddhism and Modern Psychology, if you are seeking a scientific approach, from a western standpoint.
  • Just perfect. Its really my duty to thank my teacher. He was really wonderful in designing and presenting this course. I was parallely using an android app to practice the Lab sessions. This course touched and answered almost everything arises in your mind during the course. I am indebted to my teacher. he instigated, kindled so many things in my life. Very highly recommended.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Salini Devi.S : The course ,Demystifying mindfulness really opened the doors to a world of diverse knowledge. As a beginner in mindfulness learning ,after completing the course, I am pursuing for Honors to deepen my learning. A great...
  • Karen Cunningham

    Karen Cunningham completed this course, spending 4 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Excellent course. It was a bit more academic work than I had anticipated, but I have realized as I went along that I put a lot of pressure on myself to excell. I am a science/math person and never like essays, or having to do critical written responses to lectures, etc. However it caused me to stretch and expand my abilities.

    I really found the practical meditation exercises to be useful in my day to day life. I am hopeful that I will continue on with them to help with my daily stress, and to improve my mental and physical health.

    I will also suggest this course to some of my patients who might also benefit.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    The course ,Demystifying mindfulness really opened the doors to a world of diverse knowledge. As a beginner in mindfulness learning ,after completing the course, I am pursuing for Honors to deepen my learning. A great teacher inspires his students....
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Quite a deep dive into various aspects of mindfulness, from preconceptions, history, adaptations over time, philosophy, various strands of belief and current trends, as well as practical tips and exercises that explore a wide range of meditation practice style. A expert lecturer with a lot to say, the content could be quite "dense" for the casual participant - so in order to get the most from this course and do well on the assignments one has to set aside time and pay attention (or in other words; be mindful :-)
  • Josephine Pompey
    This mindfulness course gave me a greater understanding of the practice of mindfulness to help me with my need to focus and to concentrate on learning new topics in my 70's. This help me to synthesized other mindfulness MOOC I have taken. The required tests allow me to discuss mindfulness in term senior citizens needs.
  • Anonymous
    Brilliant professor & his material. At the end somewhat too much/too long/not necessary. Also some of additional persons presented in the course were not really appealing.
    Numerous technical problems are still not solved by Courcera.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course helped me a lot in becoming mindful.
    Before I started this course I had some vague notions about mindfulness and meditation, after taking this 5 week intensive practice I now feel able to meditate and bringing myself rather quickly in a position of mindfulness.
    I call this course intensive: it takes at least 4 hours/week and during week 4 an additional full day if you want to take the most out of it.
    This weekly pace is required to stay within your cohort of participants and it's the only thing I have mixed feelings about.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course provides the right balance between theory and practice: theory sessions are divided in mini-sessions of approximately ten minutes each, so they could be accessible to everyone. Practice mp3s, and there's a good variety of them, are easily downloadable. The platform is very intuitive, the only missing thing is some kind of notifications when someone reviews your work: however, if that's a deliberate choice, I wouldn't mind since we are surrounded by sound and notifications. I really appreciated the way the teacher talks, I found it very fitting to a course like this.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Teaching mindfulness is a tricky task. It could either get preachy or get too clinical. De-mystifying Mindfulness course was very engaging. It appealed to my not so spiritual, religious mind and yet did not make it sound too technical. Success of mindfulness is based on individuals experience and the course focused just on that. All my apprehensions were addressed in the course and was well spaced and paced. I strongly recommend the course to all the beginners of Mindfulness.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This is an excellent course. The structure was very good and the course material very interesting. It was great to see so many different facets of mindfulness, learn about the different traditions that use mindfulness and just putting the subject of mindfulness into words.. The guided mediations are good, too. I learned a lot and enjoyed the course very much.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I was deeply challenged by this course.
    Professor's lectures are Highest quality. Well thought out, clearly spoken, professionally filmed and transcribed. Guest lecturers are interesting and add a lot. The flow of information was as expected. Be aware that time estimates are for lectures and papers/discussion boards but do not include time practicing different mindfulness mediations each day/week.
  • Anonymous
    As a senior auditor and long practitioner of introspection, self-reflection, and some mindfulness meditations, I doubted that I would learn much. But I was pleasantly surprised and very happy with the course. I recall a sampling of: techniques and historical...
  • Anonymous
    Full disclosure: I am not new to MBSR having completed 2 8-week programmes before. Yet, this course gives you a lot of insights, food for thoughts and things to take into consideration for your own practice, to how you interact with the world but also for mindfulness in general. It is not easy as you have a lot to reflect upon but it is vital to get out of your own confort zone and interrogate the world around you.
    It helps also deepening your own practice and gives opportunity to go forth or on the side.

    I am very grateful for this course.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    It helped me improve my awareness. I'm an over thinker and it helped me improve my decision making process. I also learned many things about various traditions like Buddhism and Daoism.Nice presentation also

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