Mindfulness

Recently there has been quite a media hubbub around “mindfulness” or the “mindful revolution.” Someone has dubbed 2014 as the “year of mindfulness” and even TIME Magazine ran a cover story on the concept. Until recently, I will admit that I did not buy in to meditation… mostly because I was limited by my mind’s eye perception of just what meditation was and what it involved. To me, meditation conjured up visions of hippie-garbed individuals clustered in a very earthy setting, sitting with their legs crossed and indulging in chanting “ohm”s and breathing deeply. I guess it just seemed to me that the “look” of meditation had become more important than the actual effects of meditation; at least, that’s how it appears from the way it’s been portrayed in media and by proponents of the movement in earlier iterations. ¬†Meditation also always seemed to have some element of religious underpinning to it that focused the process in a particular bent, thereby limiting the outcomes of engaging in the practice. That just didn’t hold appeal for me.

However, there is an emerging new look at just what meditation really is, what it can look like, and the benefits of engaging in such practices. The term “mindfulness” seems to help clear away prior contexts traditionally assigned to the word “meditation,” thereby allowing the concept to transpose traditional boundaries and emerge into the daily lives of people from all backgrounds. The gist of mindfulness is that it does not have to be limited to yoga retreats, religious rituals or specialized settings or times. One can engage in mindfulness just about anywhere, anytime. It would appear that traditional approaches to meditation are giving way to a new, more generally applicable approach. This is interesting.

In essence, mindfulness is engaging in heightened self-awareness as well as engaging in objective reflection. As you know from prior posts I have made, the idea of individual reflection and awareness or tenets that I believe in deeply. Mindfulness is not something that must be done in a particular place or in a particular way. It is simply being aware of yourself and opening your thoughts to reflect and process what has happened or to future-vision what might yet come. It is a way by which one can process complexities presented and frame mindset in a more positive light.

I think what is most compelling about the mindfulness revolution are the stories emerging of how mindfulness is significantly impacting those who practice it. Specifically, I’m interested in the use of mindfulness techniques in the schoolhouse. Several schools have begun incorporating “mindfulness moments” or other structured meditative sessions during the school day with astonishing results. From students about to take the GRE to kids in impoverished inner-city settings, mindfulness has shown to help students gain greater focus and clarity, thereby improving academic achievement. It’s also led to less anxiety and stress (both in terms of anecdotal reporting and in scientific measurement of the stress hormone in several tests). ¬†Axonal density in the brain also appears to be improved through the regular practice of mindfulness. Studies have shown that other effects of mindfulness include reduced depression, better sleep, and greater compassion for others.

It would appear that while I see many upsides to the introduction of mindfulness into the schoolhouse, I have yet to see downsides presented. Some questions I have around the practice come around how schools would gain buy-in from what I imagine to be rather cynical teenagers; I would like to better understand the “how” by which schools begin such a program and ingrain it into the school’s culture. I would be very interested in seeing how schools effectively implement a mindfulness program into their school and sustain it over the long haul. The benefits certainly seem to outweigh whatever difficulties might be encountered during the inception phase.

What do you think about the mindfulness movement? Have you seen it at work in schools? What thoughts do you have about implementing such a program?