Mindfulness

With the average high school student bombarded with constant information and social media overload, as well as frequent tests and the ever-present pressure to get into college, it’s no wonder that students report being stressed out. That’s why many schools are introducing a popular technique for stress reduction: practicing mindfulness as a way to slow down.

Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways, but most of them involve some form of meditation. You can do this by sitting in a comfortable position for five minutes or more and just trying to focus your attention on the present moment. Popular techniques include counting your breaths, observing the sensations in different parts of your body, or noticing the sounds in your environment. A common misconception is that meditation means emptying your mind of all thoughts. For most of us, though, that’s nearly impossible. Instead, the goal is to notice when a thought crosses your mind and then just bring your attention back to your breath or whatever it is you’ve decided to focus on.

Many teachers and students are finding that practicing mindfulness for even a few minutes every day can have a remarkable effect on students’ anxiety levels, making them calmer and more able to concentrate on a lesson, be creative or take a test. And best of all, it’s free and easy—anyone can do it at any time.

With all these great benefits, it’s no wonder mindfulness has become a buzzword in education. Mindful Schools, a non-profit organization that encourages schools to adopt mindfulness practices, has impacted more than 1.5 million students since 2007 by training teachers to bring mindfulness into their classrooms. And similar organizations are cropping up across the country to do the same.

According to Mindful Schools, numerous studies have shown that mindfulness can help improve students’ attention spans, increase the compassion they have for themselves and others, reduce levels of stress and make them better able to regulate their emotions.

The practice has shown to be especially helpful for students who have witnessed violence or experienced childhood trauma and are plagued by anxiety. In one study, researchers looked at 400 students in an elementary school in California, and after just five weeks of regular mindfulness practice, teachers reported that the students were more focused, caring and willing to participate in class.

Another study in the U.K. that looked at students age 12 to 16 who practiced mindfulness in school showed that it led to fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress and a greater sense of well-being.

Here at Educational Endeavors, our director, Stephen Weber, has also seen the benefits. “Mindfulness is a good tool for reducing stress and anxiety, and that’s good for being able to receive information and learn,” Stephen says.

Educational Endeavors started incorporating mindfulness training into our Ideal Student Workshop this year as a way of introducing the concept to students and showing them how they can try these techniques on their own whenever they feel they need to calm down and concentrate. And we started seeing results right away.

Our program manager, Erin Bosack, reported one instance that really stood out. “On day two we played an experiential learning game, and afterwards the students were really excited and chatty. Usually it would take them a while to wind down from the game and focus on the next lesson, but we did a mindfulness exercise and within minutes everyone was calm and ready to concentrate,” Erin says.

During the Ideal Student Workshop, students spent five minutes each day for the first four days trying a mindfulness technique. On the last day of the workshop, they reflected on the benefits they had noticed and discussed ways to incorporate these techniques into their daily lives.

“We talk a lot about how to develop keystone habits in the Ideal Student Workshop, and cultivating a regular mindfulness practice is one of those habits that is likely to have a domino effect. If you’re being mindful, you’re more likely to build the other academic habits we teach in the ISW, like managing your time, doing your homework, and staying organized,” Erin says. “If you can sit quietly for five minutes, that’s going to carry over to other parts of your life.”