Mindfulness meditation, traditionally a Buddhist practice, is being taught to school-age students in the western world. And why not? In fact, what has taken us so long?
Mindfulness techniques help develop skills in concentration and focus while reducing anxiety and reactive responses. When offered to young children, it’s a chance to give them a unique set of tools to handle everyday frustrations and to even help them avoid depression and stress-related problems later in life.
Hermosa Valley School offers an elective class to sixth-graders that blends a bit of yoga and meditation with the science of the brain. The children learn that when they think happy thoughts, they get a burst of dopamine — the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Through focused breathing, they become calm and gain an awareness of their thoughts and feelings.
A recent article reported that a young student was bothered by his little brothers, who “drive me nuts.” Through the class he has learned that when they start acting silly or being too lou to walk away. He simply goes to his room, shuts the door and focuses on his breathing to subdue his annoyance.
Their class is part of MindUP, a scientifically-based system rooted in cognitive neuroscience. According to its website, founder Goldie Hawn collaborated with neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and educators to create MindUP a program that fosters a classroom learning environment where a child’s ability to academically succeed and personally thrive is maximized and directly linked to their overall state of well-being.
The students of the MindUP program are given tools to help them manage emotions and behaviors, reduce stress, sharpen focus and increase optimism and empathy. Considering the fast-paced and stressful world we live in, the benefits from practicing mindfulness at a young age are invaluable.
A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that between 2001 and 2010, the number of new cases of children diagnosed with ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — jumped 24 percent. Could mindfulness meditation tools help?
A few of its benefits are:
» emotional resilience
» emotional positivity
» a quieter mind
» enhanced creativity
» better all round health
» better relationships
» greater focus of attention
What a gift to become aware at a young age of your thoughts and feelings. “To learn,” as Patricia Escalante, superintendent of the Hermosa Beach City School District, says, “that you can choose to be optimistic, empathetic or compassionate.”
Slowing down — why is it so difficult for us as adults? Are we afraid we’ll miss out on the next best thing around the corner? Do we race to numb our feelings? Or make the next dollar? Or are we caught in the “nobody can take my place syndrome”?
It doesn’t really matter. We just need to give ourselves permission to slow down. We don’t have to go to a Zen monastery. We can begin each day like the class at Hermosa Valley School does. For just two full minutes, we can sit still and focus on our breathing.
Perhaps if we had been taught at a young age a few mindfulness techniques, the world would be a calmer and more peaceful place today. But that’s yesterday. We can begin today. And so can our children.