Learning the art of stillness

By | Science & Technology
Young boy meditating.Credit@yogaforlife

Meditation classes have been introduced into student timetables in Berkshire, the mindfulness in school’s campaign aims to increase the wellbeing of children. Compelling evidence into the benefit of meditation for children is at the heart of the idea and suggests mindfulness meditation may support children with the emotional, physical and social wellbeing vital for academic achievement.

Meditation is an ancient practice with the earliest written evidence originating in the Far East in around the 17th century BCE. The exact origin is debated however with many believing the ability to focus attention is a unique human skill and therefore may have been present much earlier than this. As it is a practice in which an individual focuses the mind, aims for relaxation, and improves emotional qualities. Every human being may have an innate capacity to develop these abilities and may already use these daily. Meditation may have differing meanings to different groups depending on context, with some describing it as contemplation, concentration or an effort to self regulate the workings of the mind. The practice is nevertheless an individual experience undoubtedly unique to each personality.

The research on the benefits for children is extensive and applies to all areas of a child’s physical and mental health. A study by Schonert-Reichl and colleagues showed multifactorial changes in the behaviour of children taught mindfulness techniques. In particular, a 24% increase in productive social actions were observed along with a 24% decrease in aggression which amounted to a significant improvement in classroom behaviour. The training had a valuable side effect of improving math scores by 15%, this lends support to past research emphasising how effective education relies on practices improving a child’s social and emotional capabilities. Moreover, the positive emotions associated with mindfulness meditation may have been shown to predict school functioning especially school satisfaction.

The motivation for the mindfulness in school’s campaign was evidence suggesting the wellbeing of English children may be requiring improvement. The practice of meditation has been recommended by the mindfulness foundation which may be both a remedy and a turning point in the focus on and importance of child wellbeing. Investigations into the benefits of mindfulness meditation for adults employing evidence from brain imaging, demonstrates it reliably alters the structure and function of the brain to improve wellbeing. MP James Berry commented, “Now is the time to be innovative, look at what’s working and act. It’s time to start piloting mindfulness in our schools, and measure its success.” The implementation of meditation into the timetable of pupils in Berkshire may provide evidence of a clear benefit of meditation to the wellbeing of students, if it is successful it may become a nationwide practice. The main aim is that mindfulness education may be part of the national curriculum by 2022.

Other goals of the mindfulness foundation include funding further mindfulness research which is more extensive, increasing awareness of mindfulness education, teacher training and the aim of preventing and or aiding mental health conditions in adulthood. The campaign recommends mindfulness based cognitive therapy for individual student’s seeking to reduce stress and training for teachers in mindfulness to assist students in the practice. Prior research may reveal how this cognitive therapy improves psychological wellbeing. To emphasise the importance education secretary Nicky Morgan commented, “I want to make it very clear that of course academic achievement is important however, so too is turning out well-balanced young people who are able to fulfil all of their potential.” Looking forward the Ofsted wellbeing proposal aims to measure the wellbeing of all children and the current and previous research into meditation is very encouraging; the studies mentioned and many others have exposed a clear benefit for children. With the government aiming to raise wellbeing, meditation may be a cost effective remedy, acknowledged for its influence on individual, group and teacher wellbeing. The campaign may aid children to relax and to be in control of their emotions and behaviour. Children may have a greater awareness of how controlling information intake may lead to more profound understandings of the world and motivate an enhanced education.

How might long term meditation improve the health and the mindset of a child?

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