I practice and teach mindfulness to teachers, children, and adults; it has brought numerous benefits to my daily experience and I’m happy sharing my knowledge and experiences with others. Over this summer, I’ve worked with multiple families, parents and their children, as they’ve learned mindfulness together. My question is this: If so many of these children attend public schools, and they do, why do so many public school systems seem to be afraid of offering mindfulness within the school day?
This is almost a rhetorical question, because I believe I know why the hesitation exists; some people continue to associate mindfulness with a religious practice.
While it is true that mindfulness meditation was initially tied to a religious tradition, it is secular mindfulness that is being offered today in so many schools, hospitals, corporations, the military, and, even, as a part of the Australian and United Kingdom health-care systems. This simple and scientifically supported practice is yet one more avenue to acquire the social-emotional learning skills that prove to be beneficial throughout a person’s lifetime.
During mindfulness lessons, participants learn about basic brain science. They learn about the prefrontal cortex (PFC) doing the planning and organizing, and how the PFC works in concert with the hippocampus, a memory center.
- I need to clean my room…and this is how.
- I want to make plans for the weekend…and this is how.
- I need to do my homework and study for the test…and these are the procedures that must be done to accomplish this.
Participants also learn there is an alarm center in the brain, the amygdala, that turns on when there is anger, fear, worry, embarrassment or any other strong emotion. This area of the brain helps keep us safe, but it can also interrupt the connection between the PFC and hippocampus. (Think what happens when the fire alarm goes off; you drop everything and go to safety. That’s a great comparison for what happens when the amygdala activates.)
This is what has happened when students forget the information they studied last night for today’s test, or freeze before a big presentation or sporting event. In mindfulness, participants learn strategies that can calm that amygdala so they maintain better control over their words and actions, have a much better chance of performing well during that performance, test, or competition. The skills will also help participants reduce emotional reactivity during difficult conversations so they are better able to say what they mean, and behave in a way that reflects the person they really are, rather than have a knee-jerk reaction and say or do something they will later regret.
The truth is, mindfulness is nothing to fear. Mindfulness teaches appreciation, gratitude, kindness, and consideration. Mindfulness helps us remember to pay attention to the present experience, rather than replaying past events or worrying about ones coming in the future. It encourages us to avoid judging thoughts, words and actions, whether ours or someone else’s, and pay attention to our feelings and thoughts, and realizing how they impact us physically and mentally.
Mindfulness is a gift to be cherished, not a practice to be feared.
Maybe, just maybe, more schools and parents will soon be willing to try something new. In a world where children and adults are often overwhelmed with worries and anxieties, and so many are resorting to unsafe and unwise behaviors, now might be the BEST time to give mindfulness a try.
photo by Vladimir Kudinov