The word ‘mindfulness’ is everywhere. We see it on billboards, magazines, on social media, and advertisements promoting ‘mindful weight loss’ or even ‘mindful shopping’! But what is mindfulness, and what is all the rage? More importantly, can mindfulness be a beneficial tool for students, both in a homeschool environment and in the fast-paced academic environment of today’s schools? Recent studies show that this may indeed be the case.
What is Mindfulness?
The word ‘mindfulness’ is a translation of the Pali word ‘sati’ (Sanskrit: ‘smrti’). Sati and Smrti have meanings connecting to the word ‘remember’. But to remember what? Let’s explore!
The practice of mindfulness dates back over 2,500 years ago to India where the ascetic tradition of traveling mendicants formed a major part of society. There, practitioners took up different meditative techniques and paths in order to reach their particular goals. The majority of mindfulness practices that we see today through the books, videos, and lessons of many well-known authors and teachers, have their roots in the Buddhist practice of mindfulness from this period, although all of the religious elements have been removed, leaving a secular approach.
This modern and secular practice of mindfulness is accessible and extremely beneficial to people of all backgrounds and ages. The general philosophy behind the practice is holding one’s mind on an object of concentration, i.e. the breath (Pali: anapanasati). When thoughts, concerns, plans, etc. enter the mind, the mindfulness practitioner remembers to gently return to the experience of the breath over and over again. This practice of returning to the breath is instrumental in cultivating concentration and peace of mind.
What are the benefits to students? Let’s look at the studies:
We all know that as students grow, they are given more and more academic responsibility: remembering due dates, studying for important tests and quizzes, writing research papers, remembering mathematic formulas, organizing backpacks and handouts to keep things in order, time management, sports/extra-curricular commitments, and the list goes on. This is a lot for a developing brain to manage in an efficient and stress-free way. The practice of mindfulness has been proving to be quite beneficial for students socially, emotionally, and academically.
According to a joint study conducted by the Department of Education and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in 2014, a social and emotional learning program involving mindfulness practices drew results concluding that students who participated in the mindfulness program (a) improved more in their cognitive control and stress physiology; (b) reported greater empathy, perspective-taking, emotional control, optimism, school self-concept, and mindfulness, (c) showed greater decreases in self-reported symptoms of depression and peer-rated aggression, and (d) were rated by peers as more prosocial.
Another study from the Department of Psychiatry and Brain Sciences at the University of Louisville in 2015 found that mindfulness helped students during high-stakes testing, by reducing their anxiety and boosting working memory.
The importance of Mindfulness beyond the classroom:
In addition to peace of mind and growth of emotional maturity, an added benefit of mindfulness practice is the broadening of perspectives. Through practice, we begin to see the commonalities of our own mental habits with everyone else, therefore developing compassion and a deeper sense of community in our relationship to others and the world at large. This is why this practice still exists and thrives after 2,500 years. The need for mindfulness is timeless and universal. It is a very exciting time for the implementation of mindfulness practices in the field of education, with more and more studies coming out supporting the known benefits of mindfulness for students.
Next week’s blog post will focus on Mindfulness activities that you can do at home!
For further information on mindfulness for students, or to schedule introductory mindfulness coaching for your child, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.