Fall / Automne 2020

“Breathe in… breathe out”: Contextualizing the Rise of Mindfulness in Canadian Schools

Catherine Gidney
Department of History, St. Thomas University, Canada
Published November 7, 2020
  • Buddhism,
  • counterculture,
  • mental health,
  • mindfulness,
  • positive psychology,
  • SEL
  • ...More
How to Cite
Gidney, Catherine. 2020. “‘Breathe in… Breathe out’: Contextualizing the Rise of Mindfulness in Canadian Schools”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 32 (2). https://doi.org/10.32316/hse-rhe.v32i2.4741.


Mindfulness practices have exploded onto the mainstream North American cultural landscape. Not surprisingly, proponents of mindfulness can also be found within education systems in North America and the western world more generally. In Canada, mindfulness-based programs have filtered into faculties of education as well as public school classrooms. Yet, despite the rapid spread of the mindfulness movement, relatively little is known about it historically. This article pieces together some of the key intellectual and cultural developments that have enabled the growth of this phenomenon: North Americans’ encounters with Buddhist perspectives since the 1950s and 1960s, the intersection of psychology and Buddhist practice, the flourishing of progressive educational ideals, and the growth of school psychology. It then briefly explores the kinds of citizenship ideals promoted by mindfulness practices as well as educators’ rationales for their implementation. Tracing this history demonstrates that, despite its relatively recent entry into schools and its promotion as a scientifically-based physiological practice, mindfulness is a phenomenon with deep historical roots within a particular British and North American social and cultural context. Exploring this context and the reasons for educators’ turn to mindfulness will help us better understand our modern education system and the kinds of students it aims to produce.