During the past 10 years, mindfulness mediation has gained huge popularity in the west. More than ever, we are seeing classes, apps and books on meditation, and are coming to accept the benefits of the practice that those in many eastern cultures have recognised for millennia. Meditation boasts both numerous mental health benefits including reduced stress and anxiety, better focus and concentration, increased self-awareness and even physical health benefits such as decreased blood pressure, all of which are backed extensively by scientific study.1 Having come to meditation in my 20s, I have often wondered what my school years would have looked like if accompanied by a regular meditation practice and I cannot help feeling that the benefits of mindfulness meditation would have been invaluable to me as a student.
What is mindfulness meditation?
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of sitting with oneself and observing the direct experience of being in the present moment in a focused and non-judgemental way. We often focus on the breath to take us back to this direct experience of being in our body but the breath is merely a means to an end to training ourselves to maintain attention and to not get caught up in our own thoughts. When we meditate, not only do we develop this skill of focusing on the present moment but gain invaluable insight into the transitory nature of our own thoughts and feelings.
How can mindfulness be harnessed as an educational tool?
“Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.” – Ajahn Brahm
One of the most obvious ways in which mindfulness can boost a student’s learning is the improved focus that comes with a regular practice. A study conducted by Mindful Schools partnered with the University of California, Davis in the 2011-12 school year found that children in classes that received 15 mindfulness lessons, each lasting 15 minutes, taught over 6 weeks were three times more likely to pay attention in class than a control group, as well as over doubly likely to participate and show care for others.2 It goes without saying that increased focus undoubtedly leads to more efficient and rewarding learning. Even as an adult, I have often found that distractions come between me and whatever I’m reading or activities I am engaged in, even when I have great passion for whatever I am doing, such as making music. Meditation brings calm and silence to the mind, freeing us from distraction and cultivating a focus which is ideal for learning, no matter your age.
Furthermore, it is now well documented by a vast number of psychological studies that meditation helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression and boosts self confidence.3 Maintaining a balanced and happy emotional state is clearly of paramount importance to optimal learning and the detrimental effects that poor mental health can have on a student’s achievement are uncontested.4 Mindfulness meditation offers us a completely healthy, natural way of boosting our mental state and, in doing so, allowing our minds to facilitate more information and have a better time doing it.
Meditation is a key to greater achievement not only in academia but in life as a whole and I feel our educational system is missing a trick in not harnessing it as a technique, particularly for students who may be having trouble concentrating or who have a turbulent home life. Not only are the benefits of meditation scientifically proven but these benefits are proven to improve our ability to learn.