meditation makes you smarter...and kinder
Mindfulness, meditation, being in the present moment - whatever name you give it, what was once reserved for the Buddhists, yogis, or new-agey folks is finally catching on as a legitimate practice in mainstream Western culture. And for good reason. Beyond just anecdotal evidence, Harvard has now scientifically proven the benefits of meditation on the brain. In the Harvard study, a group of participants spent an average of 27 minutes engaged in daily mindfulness exercises for eight weeks. Pre and post magnetic resonance images of the mindfulness participants found "increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection." So meditation not only makes you smarter, it also makes you a kinder, more thoughtful person.
Pre and post magnetic resonance images of the mindfulness participants found "increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection."
Additionally, "participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress." Now, we all know stress is bad for your health. But, stress also seriously impedes learning. Ideally, our bodies spend most of the day with parasympathetic nervous system activation - aka, our "rest, digest, repair" mode. This is where our bodies and minds feel calm, cool and collected, and we are primed for thinking and learning. But, many of us plow through our days with sympathetic nervous system activation, the "fight or flight" response. Simply racing around in the morning to get yourself and your family ready, out the door and where you need to be on time can be enough to activate the fight or flight response. (You know you've been there, maybe even just this morning).
Now imagine the stress faced by a small child living in poverty. Or a teenager who's lived in poverty her/his whole life. (I'm not being biased, check out this collection of research from Stanford on poverty and stress). Especially if you teach students from poverty, your students are bombarded with toxic stress. A valid frustration I often hear from teachers is that there is only so much you can do, and you can't change what your students go home to.
Enter mindfulness for schools.
We've already established that meditation makes people smarter, kinder, and happier. Plus, it's free, and you really only need a few minutes! I started a regular meditation practice with my second graders last year. I had a mixed SES class, some children's parents were Cornell professors, some children lived below the poverty line in a low-literacy environment. Guess who enjoyed our morning meditations? Everyone. Myself included. I looked forward to our five minutes of quiet time and deep breathing. If things ever got too crazy during the day, we could stop and take a meditation break. Parents even reported finding their children meditating at home. (Some of them thought it was so cool: " I found my daughter meditating on her bed before lights out last night!" Some didn't know what to make of it: "He asked me for my phone so he could use my timer...to... meditate?") Like anything, it takes practice. Children (and adults) need to learn the skill. But it's so worth it.
A chubby, can't-sit-still 8-year-old with a mohawk, who struggles to read and solve addition problems, who is always (always) in your teacher materials, who is often dirty, who has holes in his sneakers, and a penchant for clogging the toilets with paper-towels and smearing soap all over the bathroom mirrors. Now picture him sitting with his eyes closed, taking a deep breath, hands pressed together over his heart, faint smile on his lips.
"You looked very peaceful, what were you thinking about?" ... "Riding a shark!"
Check out these articles on meditation for children in schools.
And let me know in the comments below - in what ways did this post impact you? Will you do anything different? Who would you like to share this with?