A recent spotlight on mindfulness and meditation practices in the public school setting touted how this practice inspired students to clean up nearby parks, and build and tend gardens, rather than simply sitting in detention.
A recent study conducted at the University of Cincinnati (UC) evaluated nine children between 9 and 16 years of age, all of whom had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and had a parent with bipolar disorder. Participants engaged in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while viewing emotional stimuli before and after 12 weeks of MBCT. After 12 weeks of MBCT, the parts of the brain associated with decreased anxiety showed increased activation. The authors concluded that the results of this study provide evidence that mindfulness improves symptoms of anxiety disorders in children.
Mindfulness is a tool and a trend that has reached primary and secondary school classrooms. Experts hypothesize that setting aside a few minutes a day may help children relax and behave more favorably in school.
What is mindfulness?
According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is a “state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” More than just a conscious awareness of one’s actions, mindfulness is somewhat a dissociative state.
The Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) instituted a pilot program at a large high school with a diverse population. Students and teachers engage in 15-minute yoga and mindfulness practices at the beginning and end of each day. The goal of the program is to reduce stress, increase brain activity and happiness in students, and combat burnout in teachers.
A few points to remember
While there are no physical risks involved with mindfulness meditation, there are a few important points to keep in mind when practicing it:
- Eliminate distractions: Finding a quiet place with little or no environmental stimuli facilitates the process
- Breathing: Practice slow, deep breaths to promote relaxation; placing the hand over the abdomen helps ensure slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing
- Acknowledge thoughts: Ideas and thoughts that enter the mind may do so, but it is important to not judge them as good or bad, but rather to let them go
The results of the HLF study remain to be seen, but it will certainly be interesting to see whether mindfulness practices do indeed help children learn while allowing them to also maintain their own intrinsic freedom of thought.
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About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education.