Mindfulness in schools
At a time when many are questioning what the British Government are thinking (with Brexit and everything else that is going on), it is encouraging to see them make the intelligent decision of trialling mindfulness as a subject in 370 schools from now to 2021. The study aims to introduce children to a range of techniques that promote good mental health and give schools clear evidence about what works best for students’ mental health and wellbeing in the modern world. It is one of the largest studies of its type in the world.
I often think that if there is one piece of advice I could offer my younger self, it would be to start meditation. It could have saved me a lot of hassle had I learned this simple practice that I can do anywhere at any time to help me focus better, find balance, regulate my emotions and effectively manage stress all in one. It would probably also have saved those around me a lot of stress and trouble too!
Mindfulness can be defined as ‘paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally as if your life depended on it’. We can be mindfully engaged in anything we do. It can involve being present to any aspect of your current experience.
A Harvard study has estimated that we are present about 50% of the time. The rest of the time we are in the past or in the future or in our heads. Imagine how much more we could all be and do if we could be more present more of the time. For children to learn this powerful skill at a young age in schools, it can help them in a number of key ways; focus better so they can do better at school or in any subject, career or sport they want to pursue, effectively manage stress and relate better with others. Mindfulness is a valuable life skill that can enhance all areas of life.
The present moment is always the most powerful place to be. Overthinking about the past and future adds to our stress and is also shown to diminish happiness.
As part of the UK study, children will work with experts to learn relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and other practices to “help them regulate their emotions”.
It would be great to see the Irish Government do something similar. There is both a need and an opportunity at this critical time in our history. A 2017 study by the Royal College of Surgeons, shows that one in three children will have experienced a mental health problem by the time he or she reaches 13 years. A 2018 UCD study found that:
- One in four students said they feel stressed at the end of the day and find it hard to concentrate and
- Over 50% of students have difficulty concentrating in class or on study because of day-to-day stress.
People are ready and open to talk about mental health and take it seriously which is further promoted by so many high-profile successful personalities sharing meditation as one of their key tools for happiness and success (including Oprah, Marc Benioff (head of Salesforce), Katy Perry and Prince Harry to name a few).
While many schools are doing mindfulness as part of the current wellbeing curriculum in Ireland, there isn’t consistency and it is often down to the enthusiasm and skill set of teachers and priorities of the school management. For anything in life to work, it requires consistency and needs to be driven and supported at all levels.
Mindfulness practices have been around for 1000s of years in many traditions. While they will not solve all mental health problems, a recent study has shown that it is beneficial for up to 95% of people. It would really be great to see the Irish Government take a similar step forward.
This is a topic we at Spiritual Earth feel passionately about. If any schools are working on or looking to expand your mindfulness programmes, for either students or teachers, we would love to hear from you. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.