A number of school districts across the United States have begun bringing mindfulness into the classroom, including as an alternative to traditional school suspension. The results are surprising.
Call it Buddhist meditation without the incense: Across the nation, in corporate boardrooms and cubicles alike, mindfulness is helping more and more members of the workforce become happier, healthier and less stressed.
The result? These individuals have become more productive, more focused, and less anxious.
But, can mindfulness also help tackle some of the problems in American classrooms? A number of school districts in the United States say yes.
Early reports also show promise, with some studies touting that mindfulness can lead to increases in standardized test scores and a decrease in school violence.
What Is Mindfulness?
In 1971, the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert) wrote a book he titled “Be Here Now.” That simple three-word word phrase eloquently synopsizes the essence of the practice that’s come to be called mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the ability to focus intentional awareness to the present tense without passing judgment. Over the centuries, mindfulness has been incorporated as a spiritual discipline into practically every great Eastern and Western religion. One of the most common methods of achieving mindfulness is through the practice of meditation.
Misconceptions abound, though, when it comes to figuring out what “purposeful attention” or “intentional awareness” actually means.
In a sense, the practice of mindfulness and intentional awareness is closely akin to the scientific concept of self-regulation. Increasingly, health practitioners are using mindful meditation and other mindfulness techniques as an ancillary treatment for conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psoriasis, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
Mindfulness In US Classrooms
American students are more stressed than ever, and the classroom is one of the environments that provokes the most anxiety. Mindfulness techniques can help children cope with these types of stressors.
One of the toughest schools in San Francisco, Visitacion Valley Middle School, introduced a meditation program in 2007, and within the first year of the program, suspensions were reduced by 45% and school attendance was up to 98%.
Other schools have followed suit: from elementary schools to high schools, public schools and private schools, there’s a good reason why mindfulness is making its way into more classrooms.
Research demonstrates the positive effects of mindfulness in the following ways:
• Attention and focus: In January 2019, the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University published a white paper on the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom. Researchers studied a classroom of sixth-graders who practiced mindfulness techniques for eight weeks. At the end of that time, these students performed far better on tests than classmates who had not participated in the mindfulness training, suggesting these students were better able to focus on their schoolwork.
• Stress: The sixth-graders in the Center for Education Policy Research’s study also reported that they were experiencing far less stress.
• More effective emotional regulation: The Center did a series of physiological tests with some of the sixth-graders who’d practiced the mindfulness techniques. Follow-up brain scans found that these children’s amygdalas responded far less actively to scary pictures. The amygdala is the part of the brain where emotions originate.
“Bringing mindfulness practices, tools and exercises into the classroom allows for a future full of possibility, positivity, hope, and inspirational change for us all to flourish and thrive within,” explains Bianca, The Spiritual Owl, an internationally recognized Mindfulness Expert who has worked with well known organizations like Amazon, Fortune 500 company executives, and academic institutions around the world.
A Mindfulness Curriculum
Mindfulness techniques are being integrated into the classroom curriculum in a variety of ways.
Young children are being taught the effectiveness of deep breathing to calm their bodies and their minds, while older students have benefitted from the use of guided imagery, especially in conjunction with new concepts in the classroom.
Most valuable of all may be the various forms of mindfulness through movement such as yoga, which allows kids to get up from their chairs.
Bianca, The Spiritual Owl, adds, “The benefits of self empowering meditation and mindfulness extends beyond the classroom. It helps children and youth to reduce stress, boost confidence, become more present in the moment, and learn greater compassion and empathy towards themselves and others.”
Teaching mindfulness in US classrooms is proving to be a cost-effective way to improve the educational experience, and reduce negative outcomes.
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