‘Mindfulness’ Movement Aims to Reduce Stress in Schools

meditation

The practice of “mindfulness,” a form of meditation, is gaining popularity across disciplines as professionals believe it helps to reduce stress, stay balanced and perform their jobs better.  Recently, the movement has made its way into the field of education as educators and psychologists wonder if it could benefit schoolchildren as well.

The act uses meditation to focus completely on the present moment.  The participant acknowledges their feelings and experiences and accept them without criticism or judgement.  The goal of the activity is to quiet the mind and increase awareness, writes Emily Holland for The Wall Street Journal.

The movement is being brought into schools across the US by advocates who believe that teaching children to meditate and use controlled mindset can benefit by sharpening the focus of such students, reducing their stress, and increase academic performance.

“Studies show that grade-school-aged children who learn mindfulness and meditation are more focused and resilient,” says Sarah McKay, an Oxford University-trained neuroscientist and freelance science writer specializing in mind and brain. “It helps settle them down and improves concentration, particularly if done before school or after lunch breaks.”

Goldie Hawn is one such advocate of the movement for schoolchildren.  The actress started a program 12 years ago through her Hawn Foundation called MindUP that taught children to use their emotions and reduce stress through activities such as “brain breaks,” which asks the students to spend two to three minutes focusing on their breathing.  Since 2011, 13,500 teachers and 405,000 students have taken part in the MindUP training.

“A stressed brain and a brain that doesn’t feel good is basically a brain that doesn’t focus or learn as well,” says Ms. Hawn, who created the MindUP curriculum with the help of neuroscientists, psychologists and education experts. “I wasn’t going to make a move in any way, shape, or form without research,” she says, stressing that MindUP is a “neurologically based program.”

The movement is supported by a variety of research including a study from 2009 which found that children who suffered from a number of mental and medical conditions were able to reduce their stress levels and increase self-esteem through the completion of an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Another study conducted by Mindful Schools in 2011-12 using three public elementary schools in Oakland, California, all located in high crime areas, found significant improvement in the behavior of children who had taken part in mindfulness training compared to those who did not.

However, there are some who do not agree with the practice being taught in schools and feel that it is teaching religion in disguise.  Candy Gunther Brown, a professor of religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, said the programs are merely taking Buddhist practices and changing the wording.  While she teaches her students about all religions, including mindfulness, she said she does not ask them to meditate, citing a Supreme Court ruling that allowed schools to teach religion but prevented them from practicing those religions on school grounds.

In the end, the program cannot be successful without the approval of teachers, many of whom do oppose the practice.  Chris McKenna, the program director at Mindful Schools, said their interest must happen organically.

“I don’t think we ever want to be in a position where we are forcing the school districts to do this,” says Mr. Ryan, author of “A Mindful Nation.” The goal, he says, should be to create an awareness of the different options that are available to support children.