Mindfulness Training in Health Education Can Reduce Student Stress


Research shows that mindfulness training for students could help in the reduction of stress levels by teaching them a variety of ways to handle difficulty and stress.

Mindfulness techniques such as meditation have been around for thousands of years, and research into the subject has proven that the various methods aid in the reduction of stress, pain management, lessening migraines, sleeping better and controlling emotions.  Heart surgery patients are increasingly being encouraged to meditate in their recovery efforts, and a number of dietitians have incorporated the training into weight-loss programs.

“Any stressed-out parent who has read Zinn’s book, ‘Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting’ (Hachette, 1998), has thought, ‘Kids ought to be learning this stuff in school,’ ” says New York educator Miriam Kahn. “Teaching a class how to calm themselves with their breath can reduce stress, promote mutual respect and de-escalate discipline problems.”

A number of studies have been performed, showing how mindfulness can help students physically, psychologically, and emotionally, in addition to improving their academic performance.  One such study looked into a program called MindUP, which taught the technique to fourth and fifth-graders.  Students who used the methods showed an increase in their behavioral and social skills, as well as higher math scores, compared to students who did not make use of the techniques.

“We tell kids to be quiet, calm down, stay on task, regulate and make good choices, but we’re not teaching them how to do that,” says Richmond, Calif., teacher Jean-Gabrielle Larochette.

This spring, the National Association of Independent Schools performed a survey on health education for the first time among its members.  The poll found that 85% of the schools included in the survey viewed health and well-being to an essential topic, although only 41% said the subject was part of the school’s mission.

Because private schools do not have to submit to the same national or state standards that public schools do pertaining to health instruction, they are able to more easily include emotional, intellectual and social well-being in their teachings, writes Sophia Hollander for The Wall Street Journal.

For schools in New York City, this means healthier food is served at lunch, and new technology and facilities are being funded for health education.

Beginning in the fifth grade, students at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn meet twice a week for classes on mindfulness training, social justice, food politics and gender identity, as well as other more traditional health topics.

However, not everyone supports the changes.  Teachers worry about their instruction time being cut, while some students and teachers view the meditations “as religion or spirituality,” said KC Cohen, an middle and upper school counselor and co-director of the health program.

“People used to think the idea of going to a gym or running outside was absolutely ridiculous 100 years ago,” Ms. Cohen said. “Same thing with mindfulness.”