Meditation in K-12 Schools: Pathways to Integration
Natalie Reider - Amrita Farms 2015 Research Residency
Prepared for: Chad and Ajitha Kymal
Sponsored by: Nathan Andrew Ayers
Throughout the world, the way of life has greatly changed in the past century. Social and education systems are becoming exceedingly more rigorous, complex and fast paced. It comes as no surprise that new studies report peak numbers in children and teens dealing with a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and in low income urban school settings where violence is prevalent, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mental health disorders impact a child’s ability to manage stress, concentrate, regulate emotion, maintain healthy relationships, and function well at home, in school, and in their community.
In 2013, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 13-20 percent of children in the United States suffer from mental disorders within a given year, and further that this statistic has continually been on the rise since 1994.
Concurrently, new trends in mental health treatment show growing popularity in the use of meditation as an effective technique for improving mental and physical health.A comprehensive study released by Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany in 2012 makes a strong case for meditation; the majority of the findings supporting meditation as a method to cultivate psychological well being. Conclusions from this study revealed that students who participated in meditation training show a reduction in negative emotion and anxiety, as well as an increase in concentrated attention, as compared to students who did not participate in the training. Within this notion, it can be said that meditation may serve as an effective intervention tool in schools.
Reliable evidence about the outcomes of meditation programs in K-12 schools is necessary in order to seriously gauge its influence on academia and mental well being. This paper seeks to provide and review data on the effectiveness of meditation in the school curriculum as means to improve the mental and physical health of youth nationally.
The Reality (Statistics)
25 % of 13-18 year olds suffer from excessive anxiety disorders
5.9% of 13-18 year olds suffer from severe anxiety disorder
Mood Disorders (Depression, Bipolar,Dysthymic Disorder)
1 in 8 adolescents suffer from depression
14 % of 13-18 year olds suffer from mood disorders
5% of 13-18 year olds suffer from severe mood disorders
In 2013, an estimated 2.6 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This represented 10.7 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.
Approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.
The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011.
Low Income Urban Schools
6.5 million children struggle from disabilities that impair their ability to learn
One in four high school students has been offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school property
One in three children are either overweight or obese
Nearly 3 million children receive medication for ADHD
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers
25% of teenagers suffer from anxiety disorders
The Brain ( Experience Based Neuroplasticity) & the Body
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to transform and develop new connections over time. Transformation of the brain is not only affected by our actions, but also by our thoughts. Behavior, lifestyle, and thought patterns significantly impact the way the brain is shaped. Various pathways dictate different behaviors. For example, if the regions of the brain associated with isolation or depression are overused, these pathways become stronger, and the pathways associated with contentment become weakened and underused. Research shows meditation increases positive brain activity and decreases levels of stress and anxiety through the creation and use of beneficial neural pathways.
Regions of the brain impacted by meditation include, the Amygdala, the Posterior cingulate Cortex, the Temporo-Parietal Junction, and the Hippocampus. The Amygdala is one of the regions of the brain that experiences negative emotions, such as stress. Excess stress causes this region of the brain to grow more and more dense over time. A study conducted by Harvard University reveals that not only does meditation positively alter the brain's acute stress response, but also reduces density in this area of the Amygdala. The Hippocampus also responds to stress, but unlike the Amygdala, this region of the brain shrinks in response to stress hormones. However, meditation is shown to increase the amount of gray matter in the Hippocampus when practiced regularly (Lazar, 2005.) Lazar also revealed that gray matter density increased in the Posterior Cingulate Cortex (which is associated with self referential processing, creativity, and reflection,) as well as the Temporo-Parietal Junction (associated with perspective-taking and empathy.)
Lastly, a study conducted by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine revealed that meditation reduced levels of blood pressure through the increased production of nitric oxide, a gas that expands blood vessels, allowing for blood flow and lowering the pressure needed to pump blood throughout the body.
Meditation can be broadly defined as the act of thinking deeply or focusing one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of music, for spiritual purposes, or as a method of relaxation.
Transcendental Meditation :
Transcendental meditation can be defined as the practice of silently repeating a word or mantra, and redirecting back to that word/mantra when other thoughts arise. TM elicits a relaxation response that helps to balance and calm the nervous system.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programs:
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programs incorporate various forms of mindfulness techniques such as yoga, walking, and breath awareness. MBSRP practices in school aid in awareness and responsibility of one’s actions through improving self-regulation of behavior, emotions, sensations, and their corresponding emotions.
Mindfulness Meditation is a practice of mental discipline in which the participant concentrates their attention on their breath, various sensations in the body, emotions that arise and background noises that occur from moment to moment, and continuing to focus attention on the present moment intentionally, accepting and non-judgmentally noticing what is going on around them.
Meditation in Existing School Curriculums:
In order to get an understanding of how to implement meditation into school curriculums, it is necessary to look at existing successful curriculums.
The Quiet Time Program (TM): The Quiet Time Program created by the David Lynch Foundation of Transcendental meditation provides students with two 15 minute sessions of Transcendental Meditation (mantra based meditation) each day in the morning and afternoon. This program has been implemented in schools nationwide. For example, Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco implemented the Quiet Time Program into their curriculum four years ago. Over the course of the past four years, suspension rates decreased by nearly 80 percent, and both attendance and academic performance increased. Similarly, Burton High School, previously called “Fight School” by San Francisco residents, reaped the benefits of the Quiet Time Program - reporting a 75 percent decrease in suspensions and better academic performance. Overall, in schools that have implemented the Quiet Time Program, research reveals other such improvements including a 21 percent increase in high school graduation rates, 10 percent improvement in testing and GPA, Reduced ADHD symptoms, as well as reduction in psychological stress, anxiety, and depression (CITE.)
Mindful Moment Program(MM): The Mindful Moment Program was developed by the Holistic Life Foundation. Through the use of the Mindful Moment Program, students start and end their school day with 15 minutes of mindfulness practice. This program has demonstrated effectiveness in academic and social improvement in various schools, such as Patterson Park High School in Baltimore, MD.Over the course of 2 academic school years (2012-2014), suspensions for fighting dropped from 49 to 23, suspensions for verbal altercations reduced from 36 to 17, attendance rates increased to 74.2 % from 71.3%, and the average GPA of 9th graders increased from 1.06 to 1.51. Robert Coleman Elementary School aso begin and ends the school day with a 15 minute meditation exercise over the PA system. Increased GPA, attendance, and overall well being are reported and will continued to be monitored in upcoming years.
Still Quiet Place (MBSRP): Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programs up until very recently was not effectively designed for children. Therefore, research is ongoing and it is difficult to find schools that have implemented this into the curriculum currently. However, Dr. Amy Saltzman, of Menlo Park California, worked with other professors at Stanford University, to develop a practice specifically designed for children, that can easily be implemented into the curriculum. Still Quiet Place is 8 sessions long (2 the first week, and one every week after that) and designed for up to around 30 students at a time. The course is geared to offer children the ability to use mindfulness in their daily lives. The practice includes body scan, sitting, eating, and walking exercises, as well as additional exercises for focusing attention and enhancing artistic expression and communication. Amy and her team at Stanford University conducted a pilot course with 31 children in grades 4th-6th, and their analysis support the benefits of MBSRP, reporting improvements in focus, emotional regulation, and social relations (Goldin, Saltzman, 2015).
IAM (Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique): IAM is a simple technique combining muscle relaxation techniques, breathing exercises,visualization, and meditation. It is designed for practice twice a day for the duration of 20 minutes. The IAM Technique has been taught to organizations around the world including schools, corporations, and correctional facilities. In 2011 the international journal, “Evidence-based Complementary & alternative Medicine” published a five year study revealing that participants in the IAM technique experience significant reductions in adrenaline, and cortisol, two of the major stress hormones released in the body. The study found that a reduction in these stress hormones could be documented within 48 hours of starting the practice. Research remains on-going.
Why implement meditation into existing school curriculums?
Existing research clearly indicates that meditation can be used as a cognitive behavioral intervention that will positively affect the functioning of students in educational communities (Barnes et al. 2001-2004) Many issues that interfere with academic success such as high stress levels, unfortunate living circumstances, mental and physical health concerns, difficulty concentrating, and/or low self esteem may find meditation particularly helpful, as it is shown to improve these areas of concern in children and adolescents.
In 2014, A conceptual model was developed by the Graduate School of Education in Melbourne, Australia to illustrate how meditation can aid in educational reform. This model, as shown below, poses that meditation first, positively influences student success by increasing cognitive functioning, and second influences student success by improving emotional regulation, resulting in improvements of social competence, well being, and academic achievement (Allen, Barsky, Ridd, Waters, 2014.)
Social Competence: Social Competence is defined as the maintenance of positive social relationships in conjunction with personal desires (Green, Rechis 2006.) Strong improvements in social-emotional competence were measured by teachers involved in a study with Schonert-Reichil and Lawlor in 2010 - Reporting less disruptive students and a reduction in antisocial behavior in the classroom after the implementation of meditation in the classroom. Concurrently, teachers from a study conducted by Napoli et al. in 2005 reported less symptoms of ADHD in students who participated in meditation.
Academic Achievement Nidich et al. used standardized tests to measure the impact of a 12 minute meditation session on academic achievement in students. They found increased reading, vocabulary, language, and study skills in 3rd-7th graders, as well as improved social studies, reading, and quantitative thinking skills in 9th-11th grade students. Similarly, Nidich et al. reported improvements in english and math scores on standardized tests taken by 125 6th and 7th graders in California who participated in 12 minute meditation sessions twice a day for 3 months.
Well Being: The effects of in-school meditation have been analyzed in relation to the various aspects of well being. In 1st and 3rd graders, significant reductions in anxiety were measured in participants (Napoli et al. 2005.) Similarly, in high school students practicing Transcendental Meditation, anxiety levels were significantly lowered (Orme-Johnson, 2001.) Significant reductions in emotional problems were measured in students aged 10-13 years old by Broderick and Metz in 2009 after 10 weeks of mindfulness meditation. In sum, findings indicate the effectiveness of meditation as a tool to decrease emotional stress, and increase well being.
Recommendations and Challenges
Meditation can be an asset and an effective tool for youth experiencing a range of learning, social, and emotional challenges in and out of the classroom. Meditation offers a period of time in which students may seek peace and calmness within themselves during the often hectic school day.
A challenge commonly met in integrating meditation into schools is the length of time recommended across age spectrums. Most meditation models used with children and adolescents are designed for adults, with a duration of 15-20 minutes twice per day. While this may be a good goal, newly surfacing studies are showing that briefer meditation periods have proven effective without compromising benefits to students (Barnes, Davis et al. 2004, Rosaen & Benn, 2006.) With significant assessment of these newer models, a shorter meditation time (For example, 10- 12 minutes practiced several times a week, or once daily) may be a beneficial starting point in schools, particularly with younger children.
Dr. Amy Saltzman who devotes her time to working with kids with ADHD, Anxiety, and depression, recommends that when working with children, it is best to start simply with asking them to follow their breath, for a few minutes at a time. There are a few fun and simple breathing/ mindfulness exercises attached at the end of this paper, that are designed to aid in children easing into meditation practices with breathing exercises in order to become familiar with meditation.
It is beneficial to clearly inform participants that meditation is a non-religious stress-reduction approach, in order to prevent confusion. Further recommendations include keeping the practice voluntary. It is helpful to have other activities as options during this time. Silent reading, drawing, etc. are commonly used for students who do not choose to participate.
With the conclusion that meditation is an important addition to the repertoire of beneficial educational tools, it is necessary for larger scale, rigorous studies be conducted. Generally research about meditation as a therapeutic tool is limited most extensively to adults. There aren’t many studies conducted with children, and often times research that is done is limited to a pilot study, and not replicated (due to limited number of studies done, not necessarily opposing results. Additionally, many studies implemented vary in size, length, and content. However research is growing rapidly.
Considering available evidence of the benefits of meditation on the brain, academic achievement, social competence, and overall well being, it is easy to conclude that it can be used a beneficial tool in the education system to combat mental health disorders, and promote overall wellbeing in participants.
Recommendations for Amrita Farms/The Future Farm:
Utilize classroom space to offer courses to parents and children
Incorporate meditation into the Future Farm camp for kids
Develop an outreach program for schools in the Ann Arbor and surrounding area, teaching students and teachers simple meditation techniques that can be implemented into the curriculum easily.
5 Minutes to a Calmer Classroom
Introduce the meditation: Explain to the students that for the next five minutes (or longer as you progress) they are going to sit quietly and practice a breathing meditation.
Encourage the students to sit comfortably in their chair: The most important aspect of the meditation posture is to keep a straight back and have relaxed shoulders.
Ask the students to gently close their eyes. This helps to prevent distraction and begins to calm the mind.
Ask the students to gently close their eyes: This helps prevent distraction and calms the mind
Guide students to bring attention to the natural sensation of their breath for the next few minutes.
Inform students to refer back to the breath if they notice their mind beginning to wander
Simple Mindfulness Bell/ Breathing Script
Advise students to get into a comfortable seated position,still and quiet, sitting upright, eyes gently closed
Speak, “Now place all your attention on the sound you are about to hear.
Listen until the sound is completely gone.”
Ring a “mindfulness bell,” or have a student ring the bell. Use a bell with a sustained sound or a rainstick to encourage mindful listening.
“Please raise your hand when you can no longer hear the sound.”
When most or all have raised their hands, you can say, “Now slowly move your hand to your stomach or chest, and just feel your breathing.”
You can help students stay focused during the breathing with reminders to breath in and out
Ring the bell to end.
Metaphorical Educational Story for teaching meditation to 6+ year old children
Invite children to pretend they are one of the children in the story and imagine being in the story inside their minds. Encourage children to close their eyes and relax gently, breathe through their noses as they watch the film in their mind’s eye.
Once upon a time there were two children called peace and happiness who lived in a beautiful cottage in the forest. One day they went for a walk in the forest. It was such a beautiful day and they were enjoying their walk so much they forgot about the time. The forest became quieter and quieter... As night fell the two children found a beautiful hollow oak tree. As they crept inside they felt warm and safe as they snuggled down into the soft bed of leaves that lay on the floor. Even though they were with each other and felt safe and tired, somehow they just couldn’t stop thinking about the day they had had. All of a sudden they saw a small golden light just above their heads. “Hello” a tiny friendly voice said “my name is Stillness the oak fairy and I was wondering if you need any help to quieten your thoughts and to relax into your soft bed of leaves.” �?Yes please’ said Peace and Happiness “That would be lovely, what would you like us to do?.” Narrator instructs children to follow Stillness’s instructions. “Well” said Stillness “Close your eyes and feel your breath moving in and out of your noses and inside your bodies, in and out and in and out. “ Peace and Serenity could see their breath in the cool night air as it turned into drifting mist. “As you follow your breathing you notice how your thoughts slow down and become still. As your thoughts become still you notice how your heads become all loose and floppy, you notice your arms becoming loose and floppy and your tummies become all loose and floppy and then your legs become loose and floppy.” Soon Peace and Happiness were feeling very calm and relaxed, so calm and relaxed that they weren’t even sleepy. They just remained beautifully calm and relaxed. Then the morning sun shone through the branches of their tree. Slowly they opened their eyes and stretched their arms and legs with a big wakeful yawn. As they looked outside they could see that they had been in the oak tree at the bottom of their garden all night long. The smell of breakfast drifted into their noses and with great excitement they ran indoors to tell everyone about their great adventure.
Mindfulness Relaxation Exercise
This script is to be read to the class as a guided meditation:
We begin by settling into a comfortable posture.
Start to disengage the mind from busy thoughts and ideas. Close your eyes softly.
Gently gather all your attention into the centre of your body.
Try to reel in all thoughts that take you to the outside world
Allow the outside world to gradually melt away and dissolve into empty space.
Begin by bringing your attention to the area around the crown of your head and gradually work down through your body to the tips of your toes.
Focus on the area around the crown of your head. Gradually focusing on this area imagine that all the tension in the muscles gradually dissolves away.
Then focus on the temples and forehead, imagining any tension headache or pain dissolves away, disappearing as you place your mind on this part of the body – imagine the tension draining down through your body into the ground.
All the tension in your head drains down through your body into the ground.
Then imagine the tension in your jaw and ears gradually melts away – as you place your mind on this area, imagine any tension draining down through your body into the ground…
Pause for a short while and then think to yourself my head is now comfortable and relaxed.
We gently work our way down the body relaxing each part and letting the tension drain away.
Focus on the area of tension around your neck and shoulders.
Try to relax the shoulders...lift them up gently and as they drop, imagine all the tension dissolving down into the ground, do this several times. As you do this try to feel that any tension or weight that you are carrying in your shoulders melts away...feel as though you are really letting go of all the tension that is being held in your shoulders.
Think to yourself... my neck and shoulders are now comfortable and relaxed.
Relax your arms and hands imagining all the tension in these areas drains out of your fingertips and far into the distance.
Focus on the back and bring your mind to the top of the spine focus on any area of tension that may have built up around the spine. Place your mind on these areas of tension and allow the knots to unravel as you focus on them and the tension dissolves down your spine out through the soles of your feet, into the ground. As your attention reaches the base of the spine, think to yourself now my back is comfortable and relaxed.
Bring your attention to the front of you body, focus on the chest area and stomach.
Try to identify any areas of stress or tension in this part of your body. Imagine that all the tension drains away disappearing as you focus on it – imagine any fear, tension or stress that have built up within the stomach disappears…
Then think to yourself, now my chest and stomach are comfortable and relaxed.
Then we focus then on our legs and feet, imagining any tension in these areas drains away, disappearing out of the soles of the feet – leaving you feeling comfortable and relaxed.
Gradually scan down from the crown of your head to the tips of your feet, checking to see if there is any tension left in your body. If you locate any, then engage in the simple exercise presented above, again on that particular part of the body.
We imagine all the tension drains out of our body and we enjoy this experience of relaxation for a short time. • We can think to ourself. My entire body is comfortable and relaxed.
Gradually bring your relaxation to a close, by becoming aware of your body, position in the room.
Gently open your eyes.
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