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Is there a Place For Mindfulness Meditation in Schools?

Is there a Place For Mindfulness Meditation in Schools?


Written by Richard Schiffman

If you have brought up children, or taught them as I have, then there is something that you have doubtless said scores of times a day — “Pay attention!” Yet this can be the hardest thing for a child to do. Their minds are like monkeys swinging quickly from one branch of thought or feeling to another. And cellphones, iPods and numberless other handheld “weapons of mass distraction” have made it that much harder for our children to focus.

This is a real problem in school, where achievement depends on one’s ability to concentrate on the work. It is not just the presence of electronic devices in the classroom, something which naturally alarms a lot of teachers. More damaging are the habits which they inculcate in the young — the surfing mentality which is always looking restlessly toward the next image, message or sensation.

Granted, this is nothing new. Before there were blackberries and gaming devices, there were paper airplanes and spitballs. Kids have always found ways to distract themselves from the task at hand — and adults, too. It is a challenge for all of us to keep our attention focused productively in the here and the now. But we all know from experience that our success and happiness depend on it. To learn something new, to accomplish anything worthwhile, to appreciate a work of art, to think deeply and creatively about a problem, we need to be able to focus and to keep our attention from straying.

We read that the test scores of America’s young are lagging behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia in crucial subjects like math and science. There is no simple way to heal our schools, especially with public spending on education shrinking in so many states and local districts. Actually, spending more may not accomplish much if we don’t help enable our students to actually focus on what they are being taught.

“Pay attention!” we tell the young. Yet we fail to give them the tools that they need in our increasingly distraction-filled world to calm and center their minds and get down to the business of learning. Minds are naturally restless, but they also possess the innate capacity to concentrate on just one thing. Human civilization is the fruit of this miraculous ability. If we want our kids to do better in school — and in life — we need to strengthen their crucial capacity to focus on what is before them.

That is why a handful of schools across the country have adopted a practice called mindfulness, a technique developed over two millennia ago in the jungles of South Asia, as a way to rest, clear and rejuvenate the mind. Mindfulness has nothing to do with religion. It is not praying to God or meditating on spiritual truths, but using the breath as a pivot to return attention again and again to the present moment.

Scientific research has shown that simply focusing on our own breath has a profound effect on human physiology, slowing respiration, lowering blood pressure levels and reducing harmful levels of stress. It also has a proven ability to help students concentrate. A slew of studies conducted in both the U.S. and Canada have demonstrated that elementary school children who engage in as little as a few minutes of directed mindfulness exercises a day were more attentive in class, got better grades and exhibited less aggression and other behavioral problems than those without the training.

Kids in America are chronically overstimulated. That is why they need ways to center themselves in an increasingly frenetic world. From school districts in the Bay Area to Lancaster, Pa., to Nashville, Tenn., teachers have found that a little mindfulness training goes a long way toward improving the classroom learning environment. Educators who are looking for information on how to integrate these practices into their curriculum can go to non-profit organizations like Mindful Schools an association for mindfulness in Education. See for additional information.

This post was originally published by Deseret News.


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8:46PM PDT on May 27, 2012

Amen...quieting the mind and just slowing down is great training.

6:33PM PDT on May 27, 2012

Practicing mindfulness would be an asset in every environment.

3:54PM PDT on May 9, 2012

I have been practicing meditation since college. It works. It does clear the mind, calms the pre-exam jitters - and coming from a family with hypertension on both sides, it does lower blood pressure and it has stopped irritable bowel syndrome in me. While prayer and meditation are not mutually exclusive, they do share similarities - the difference being that prayer asks one to meditate upon God while meditation focuses on his temple.

12:00AM PDT on May 9, 2012

Meditation is different from prayer. Prayer is asking whatever one visualizes God to be... to grant a person's request. Meditation is becoming one with all, asking for nothing, and in turn, receiving the riches of life.

I don't see how meditation can possibly be against the school system, unless the religious zealots have taken over the school systems, too.

6:49PM PDT on May 8, 2012

The Jesus Freaks are just trying to sneak prayer into school. This is all bullshit. If they do this they will have to allow Muslims to lay down prayer rugs and bow and scrape to the east six times a day. Kids can put themselves in a trance AFTER they get home from school.

2:23PM PDT on May 8, 2012

I just want to say that as long as I have been on this site, this is only the 2nd time that someone made a personal comment like this to me.. Trying to make me look or feel like a dummie. Hope that makes YOU feel like a bigger person. And YOU know who YOU are.

2:14PM PDT on May 8, 2012

Beth, I NEVER said it was prayer but I do appreciate you for being SO smart!! I'm just saying that I think the schools might not allow it. I do know how to pray AND meditate... And I do know the difference. Have a nice day.

1:01PM PDT on May 8, 2012

Donna, meditation is NOT any form of prayer; you didn't know that? Or even read a few post down?

12:49PM PDT on May 8, 2012

I was thinking that this would not be permitted since prayer is not.

11:52AM PDT on May 8, 2012

This is a great idea that can have tremendous benefit for all of our kids. Experiments done with TM have shown dramatic improvement in the mental focus of children. But because this was first brought to the west by an Indian guru, it's implementation across the board in US schools seems remote. Mindfulness meditation is Buddhist.

Perhaps we need a western neutral meditation. The word Ahhh is a very natural expression of release of stress. We Ahhh all the time to try to find our center after some type of exertion. This is the biological sound of the sigh. With full sound or just the sound of escaping air. Ahhh. And this sound, ahh, is also a central sound in the names of most gods around the world. In our case it is Yahweh. Yahhhh Weh. It is also in the ending of our prayers giving to them spiritual power. Amen. Ahhhmen.

Students could spend a couple of minutes with this each day. Breath in and on the outbreath say Ahhh, slowly, as if they were letting go of their tensions. If a student is religious, this connects him or her with their deity. If not, then this is just a healing sigh.

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