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Mindfulness and Meditation in Schools: Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools

News of Rei­d­man’s pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence spread to oth­er class­es at the school and helped launch Kaiser’s career as the founder and direc­tor of a new non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion: InnerKids. Fund­ed through pri­vate grants, its mis­sion is to teach mind­ful aware­ness prac­tices to stu­dents in pub­lic and pri­vate schools for lit­tle or no cost. In the last five years, the orga­ni­za­tion has served hun­dreds of schools across the coun­try and has grown to the point where there’s more demand for the pro­gram than Kaiser can han­dle alone. Recent­ly, she retired from her suc­cess­ful law prac­tice to devote her­self ful­ly to InnerKids. She’s now busy train­ing new teach­ers. “Requests come from all over New York, Cal­i­for­nia, the Mid­west,” says Kaiser. “It’s real­ly amaz­ing how this has caught on.”

A 2004 sur­vey of mind­ful­ness pro­grams by the Gar­ri­son Insti­tute in New York an orga­ni­za­tion that stud­ies and pro­motes mind­ful­ness and med­i­ta­tion in edu­ca­tion showed that many schools are adopt­ing mind­ful­ness train­ings because the tech­niques are easy to learn and can help chil­dren become “more respon­sive and less reac­tive, more focused and less dis­tract­ed, [and] more calm and less stressed.” While mind­ful­ness can pro­duce inter­nal ben­e­fits to kids, the Gar­ri­son report also found that it can cre­ate a more pos­i­tive learn­ing envi­ron­ment, where kids are primed to pay atten­tion.

InnerKids is one of sev­er­al mind­ful­ness edu­ca­tion pro­grams that have sprout­ed up around the coun­try; oth­ers include the Impact Foun­da­tion in Col­orado and the Lin­eage Project in New York City, which teach­es mind­ful­ness to at risk and incar­cer­at­ed teenagers. Like these pro­grams, Kaiser’s cur­ricu­lum was inspired by the work of Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of the Stress Reduc­tion Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Med­ical School. Kabat Zinn was among the first sci­en­tists to rec­og­nize that mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion might have heal­ing ben­e­fits for adult patients suf­fer­ing from chron­ic pain. He devel­oped a sec­u­lar ver­sion of the Bud­dhist prac­tice, which he called Mind­ful­ness Based Stress Reduc­tion (MBSR), and ran stud­ies demon­strat­ing its effec­tive­ness. Now, with over a thou­sand stud­ies pub­lished in peer review jour­nals about it, Kabat Zin­n’s MBSR pro­gram has been found to reduce not only chron­ic pain but also high blood pres­sure and cho­les­terol lev­els. Evi­dence also sug­gests MBSR can help improve one’s abil­i­ty to han­dle stress and alle­vi­ate depres­sion, anx­i­ety, post trau­mat­ic stress, and eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Despite the suc­cess of MBSR with adults, there has been lit­tle cor­re­spond­ing research on chil­dren, though that’s start­ing to change. At the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia in Cana­da, psy­chol­o­gist Kim­ber­ly Schon­ert Reichl and a grad­u­ate stu­dent, Mol­ly Stew­art Lawlor, recent­ly fin­ished a pilot project on mind­ful­ness in schools, with fund­ing and teacher train­ing pro­vid­ed by the Bright Lights Foun­da­tion (now called the Goldie Hawn Insti­tute), an orga­ni­za­tion found­ed by actress and chil­dren’s advo­cate Goldie Hawn. Fourth through sev­enth graders in six Van­cou­ver pub­lic schools were instruct­ed in mind­ful aware­ness tech­niques and pos­i­tive think­ing skills, then test­ed for changes in their behav­ior, social and emo­tion­al com­pe­tence, moral devel­op­ment, and mood.

The pos­i­tive response to the pro­gram was almost imme­di­ate. “In one class­room, the chil­dren went from hav­ing the most behav­ioral prob­lems in the school as mea­sured by num­ber of vis­its to the prin­ci­pal’s office to hav­ing zero behav­ioral prob­lems, after only two to three weeks of instruc­tion,” says Schon­ert Reichl. Her results also showed that these chil­dren were less aggres­sive, less oppo­si­tion­al toward teach­ers, and more atten­tive in class. Those who received the mind­ful­ness train­ing also report­ed feel­ing more pos­i­tive emo­tion and opti­mism, and seemed more intro­spec­tive than chil­dren who were on a wait­list for the train­ing. “It’s impor­tant to do research like this because kids need some­thing to cope with all the pres­sures at school,” says Schon­ert Reichl. “If we don’t find some­thing to help them, there are going to be tremen­dous health costs for these kids down the road.”

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29 Responses

  1. E. Okamoto says:

    Thank you so much for this arti­cle. I live and teach in Japan and would love it if there could be such a des­ig­nat­ed pro­gram — (espe­cial­ly since med­i­ta­tion tra­di­tion is so root­ed here). I teach a lot of anx­ious kids who have over­loaded sched­ules and high aca­d­e­m­ic pres­sures, and they could real­ly use an oppor­tu­ni­ty to just stop and be aware of one thing, such as the breath…I’ve made them stop and stretch a bit when they get stressed, and it’s helped quite a bit to get them back on track. Thanks again!

  2. Michael Levy says:

    Let Joy be your feel­ings, Love your attire, Peace your guide and you will dis­cov­er a mys­ti­cal par­adise here on earth.

  3. Binaifer Karanjia says:

    In India, and i believe in some pris­ons in
    Amer­i­ca, yoga asanas (pos­tures) are taught which specif­i­cal­ly release tox­ins in the body. Over a peri­od of time, the qual­i­ty and con­tent of the mind can be mod­i­fied and changed for the pos­i­tive. Just for your inter­est: Shasank asana or the rab­bit pose, if done three times in the morn­ing, after­noon and evening for sev­er­al days rids all feel­ings of anger and irri­ta­tion. Amaz­ing .…do try and see for your­self! Like this, there are so many oth­er asanas for dif­fer­ent needs.

  4. Stress man­age­ment is nec­es­sary for phys­i­cal and men­tal health. Prop­er hor­mone bal­ance is nec­es­sary for stress man­age­ment. I found a web­site very use­ful with its infor­ma­tion on stress man­age­ment.

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