Schools Turn to Meditation for Increased Focus, Anxiety Reduction
> 6/18/2007 11:06:26 AM

Many would not expect the practices of mindfulness and meditation to serve a comfortable role outside a local gym class or specialty studio. But in increasing numbers, schools both public and private have begun to subscribe to an experimental policy encouraging their students to practice moments of guided meditation in class in a non-religious application of the mindfulness-based stress reduction method. And despite some grumbled questions regarding the validity of such practices, informal preliminary results have proven encouraging.

Clinical study has only recently begun to explore the neurological benefits of meditation. Developing alongside the concept of "neuroplasticity," or the continued development of the receptive adult brain, a series of experiments over time reveal through quantitative measurement that regular meditation produces a heightened state of awareness and cognitive function within the brain, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. It seems that persistent meditation can change the way the brain works in permanent, positive ways, lending the practitioner a greater degree of control over his or her mind and improving one's ability to keep everyday stressors in check.

From this perspective, urban middle and high school children may be the group most likely to bear the benefits of mindfulness practice - a brief, balancing respite from the over-stimulation and anxiety that colors their daily lives. Some of the major classroom challenges encountered by teachers could conceivably be addressed by mindfulness practice as well: ADHD-addled students who find it difficult to concentrate amid consistent distractions, kids with troubled home lives that detract from their school performance, behavioral problems that extend from the classroom desk to the playground and often end in physical conflict at the expense of class cohesion and respect for discipline.

While some students obviously do not take to meditation as readily as their peers or proponents of the practice, others speak of the experience very positively. Independent studies have also noted that the mindfulness practice helps to reduce the prevalence of problems with anxiety, depression, and damaging behaviors such as anorexia. Studies specifically focussed on the benefits of guided meditation in the classroom are at present incomplete, and preliminary surveys have not been terribly conclusive. Further research is clearly needed to demonstrate the efficacy of mindfulness in the classroom, but parents open to the idea can encourage their children to enter the practice at home. Simple, calming breathing exercises may take the shape of structured games that help kids retain focus and control emotional outbursts, encouraging them to consider their desires and consequences before acting on them. Such concepts may be difficult for the average child to grasp, but the physical elements of the practice are very easy to teach, and those who persist see almost universally positive results.


I applaud the use of meditation in school. Many children are bombarded by noise and activity from the time that they wake up until they go to bed at night. Teaching children to seek quiet and calmness is definitely a tool that they can use to their benefit in the future.
Posted by: OCD On A Stick 6/19/2007 1:06:55 AM

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