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Mind-LESS or Mind-FUL?

With much more controversial matters of late hurtle-jumping to mainstream acceptance, you might think the notion of promoting mindfulness in schools would be a shoo-in—a universal yes nod along school corridors and PTA meetings, topped off by a welcoming committee of greeters at the entrance to every school. OK, that might be taking it a bit too far, but the point is that mindfulness outside of the yoga studio has been quietly taking root for the past decade in many non-traditional venues, including schools, both public and private.

The notion of being “mindful” or training the mind to be fully aware is actually “a heightened state of involvement and wakefulness” according to Maria Konnikova, author of “The Antidote to Mindlessness.” Being mindful or acknowledging the desire to give it a go has moved beyond the stereotype of mystical, patchouli-burning fire dancers. As the yoga movement has moved from private studios to athletic clubs and community events, allowing general society to experience first-hand what mental focus, stillness of mind and body, and slow breathing can do for all of us mainstreamers, the benefits have far outweighed any of the early misgivings.

Research in the past decade on schools that have introduced daily mindfulness exercises as a vehicle to calm the body and brain, provided students with a few minutes of daily meditation to focus the mind, and permitted students to start each period with slow, deep breaths have demonstrated startling results. Among the findings are better academic scores, higher student participation, stronger memory recall, and fewer behavioral incidences.

When both children and adults report a better sense of mental and emotional well-being after engaging in mindfulness exercises and classroom teachers notice significant gains in student focus and well-being, is there really anything to debate in terms of inclusion of mindfulness work in our educational programs?

If spending a few minutes of each academic day engaging in quiet meditation, deep breathing, and centering exercises equates to children who are happier, healthier, and more adept at handling the myriad of academic pressures thrust their way, is there any real argument against slowing down, breathing deeply, and training the mind to be fully aware and in the present moment? In a modern-day world filled with chaos, over-scheduled families, and exhausted kids and parents, isn’t it imperative that someone shouts at the conductor and gets off the train? With high stakes testing and national standards demanding more of students and educators, it is time that we take a few deep breaths, keep calm, focus, and carry forward with the important job of teaching and learning.