More than 200 courses populate the Columbia Public School’s High School Student Registration Guide, yet a class on mindfulness doesn’t make the cut. In England, however, up to 370 schools will start practicing the subject, expanding the traditional curriculum beyond math, science and history, a New York Times article said. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, has been around for 40 years, and the push toward mental health improvement is certainly not slowing down.
Jessica Tappana is the clinical director of Aspire Counseling, a local counseling center. She uses mindfulness daily in her work with clients and has heard the approach defined several different ways. The definition she uses focuses on paying attention to the present moment in a purposeful, non-judgmental way.
Tappana noted there are various benefits to mindfulness, and better researchers are unearthing more benefits every day. Being mindful has positive benefits for both the physical and mental aspects of health, Tappana said.
“From a mental health and emotional well-being standpoint, the benefits are too numerous to name,” Tappana said. “A few of the benefits include reduced depression, more managed anxiety, increased feeling of joy, better self-esteem and improved social relationships. Overall, you are just able to be a better version of yourself.”
Like Tappana, Dr. Rosalie Metro also incorporates mindfulness in her work. Dr. Metro is a teacher at Show Me Dharma (SMD), an organization dedicated to making the study and practice of Insight Meditation available to Mid-Missouri, according to the SMD website.
Meditation is mindfulness practiced in a specific position such as sitting, walking, standing or lying down for a given period of time. In contrast, being more alert can be part of daily life and doesn’t have to be an activity, though it can be. Individuals can bring this focused awareness to any activity like having a conversation, playing sports or doing homework, Dr. Metro said.
“Mindfulness means noticing what is filling your mind right here and right now,” Dr. Metro said. “In other words, it means being aware of what is going on in your body and mind in the present moment, without trying to change it, and also noticing how you relate to what is going on — is it pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?”
There are multiple ways one can achieve fulfillment of the mind with present thoughts. These may include focusing on breathing, walking meditations or simply living in the moment, according to mayoclinic.org. During the summer, junior Nora Hollister said she is able to take a yoga class once a week. After the classes, she said she always feels more calm and centered.
“[Yoga] helps me focus on my mind and body to relieve any built-up tension,” Hollister said. “When school starts, I get stressed with school work and I’ve noticed that when I can make it to a yoga class, I feel less worried and the stress isn’t overwhelming anymore.”
Besides typical mindfulness practices, Hollister said she has been reading devotionals, or books dedicated to spirituality, for more than a month now and can already see the difference they are making in her life. Specifically, she said her devotionals have helped her feel less worried and encourage her to live her best life and to its fullest.
“Another way that I get centered and calm is by listening to music and reading devotions. These help strengthen my faith and remind me that God is in control and I just have to trust Him to work everything out,” Hollister said. “Life gets very busy and stressful, and these things get me through the tough times by helping me to calm down and focus my attention on the positives around me.”
Dr. Metro said an individual can also practice mindfulness in relation to other people by paying attention to how they are doing and cultivating goodwill toward them. Her daughter is a first grade student at Grant Elementary, where students partake in mindfulness exercises every day over the public address system.
“Young people at any age can benefit from well-designed and executed mindfulness activities,” Dr. Metro said. “I think in high schools, individual teachers could incorporate short breaks for mindfulness into their class time. Or a club could offer more sustained opportunities for practice.”
When mindfulness is integrated into schools, Tappana said sometimes it looks like the whole school doing a short, simple breathing exercise together each morning. At the high school level, it might look like having a small meditation room students could access when they are stressed or even having an entire class devoted to teaching mindfulness, Tappana said.
“I think if schools are able to offer an option like that they are ahead of the curve right now, but I hope in the future all high schools will offer something similar,” Tappana said. “Navigating high school is really tough. You guys face a unique set of challenges that mindfulness and other emotion regulation skills can really help with. So why isn’t it offered to you?”
Considering the hundreds of schools in England that are expanding the traditional curriculum with the subject of mindfulness, seeing these practices integrated into even more schools may not be out of the ordinary.
Hollister too said incorporating some kind of meditation in school could be beneficial, considering the stress and busyness of a high schooler’s schedule. Having a space to meditate and calm down would help relieve some of that stress, Hollister said.
“A way to do this could be to have two days a week, for A and B days, that for every block there is a peaceful place where students can meditate during their AUT,” Hollister said. “This could definitely improve school life because allowing a safe space for students to relieve stress will help them to focus on what they need to do without feeling overwhelmed.”
Tappana said she worked with one school where a couple of teachers implemented three minutes of mindfulness three times a day. Part of understanding the importance of these peaceful practices is incorporating it in school settings, Tappana said. In the future, she believes the attitude toward mindfulness will be very similar to exercise.
“In fact, your doctor will probably ask about your mindfulness practice at your checkup just like they ask about your exercise routine,” Tappana said. “We will all understand that mindfulness is really important for general health, but it will still take effort/time/motivation to use it regularly.”
Do you have any unique mindfulness practices? Let us know in the comments below!