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Meditation is making its way into schools: here's why
Navigating the school years is trickier than ever – couple the expectations of peers, parents and those that children place on themselves with ever-present technology and social media and you’ve got a pressure cooker of thoughts, feelings, and distractions. Mindfulness meditation can help quieten constant noise and keep a lid on building pressure.
Meditation has its roots in Buddhism and has been practised for thousands of years. If chanting cross-legged comes to mind, mindfulness meditation is more practical – it simply involves bringing awareness to the present moment and can be practised anywhere, including the classroom.
How it helps
When we feel stressed or overwhelmed, changes in our brain affect our ability to think, make good decisions, remember things, sleep, and manage our mood – even our immune systems become compromised.
Scientific studies show how meditation helps during stressful or anxious times by reducing negative impacts on our brain and body. Meditation has been shown to increase cognition, decrease anxiety, reduce stress, promote better sleep quality and boost wellbeing.
For kids, the benefits of meditating can translate to less sick days, enhanced learning, better problem solving, increased resilience and smoother relationships with friends and teachers, which results in better behaviour.
Since replacing detention with time in a mindful moment room (an initiative with Holistic Life Foundation) – where kids use meditation techniques to calm down as well as learn how to resolve conflict peacefully – suspension rates in this US school dropped to zero.
With pay-offs like these it’s no surprise that meditation is being rolled out in Aussie schools.
Mixing ABCs with 'OM's
Science and evidence based programs such as Goldie Hawn’s brainchild The Hawn Foundation’s MindUP™ have been filtering across global classrooms in the last decade, including here in Australia.
Not-for-profit Australian organisation Smiling Mind’s vision is to see Mindfulness Meditation on the national school curriculum by 2020. Its Smiling Mind Education Program is already benefiting almost 1 million Aussie students. In a 2015 study across 12 VIC schools, students who did the program for 5 weeks reported significant improvements in sleep, ability to manage emotions, concentration levels and reductions in bullying and classroom disruptions. Teachers also reported improvements in their own mental health.
How to meditate at home
There are many meditation techniques that can be used. Mindful breathing is a simple and effective tool to help kids re-centre and calm down:
Find a quiet space with no distractions. Pay attention to the sensation of the rise and fall of your chest and stomach with each inhalation and exhalation. If the mind wanders let thoughts just be there without judgement or attachment and bring your focus back to the breath.
The natural on-the-go tendency of children can make being still difficult at first, so start out with a couple of minutes and build from there.
For research-based guided meditation programs try the Smiling Mind or Headspace Apps, which are tailored to kids’ needs.
In The Youth Survey 2016 young people continued to nominate coping with stress, school or study problems as top issues of personal concern. Any tool that might assist our youth to better manage their mental health deserves a big thumbs-up!