By Sarah Vander Schaaff
In her book, Sitting Still Like a Frog, therapist Eline Snel discusses a school program called Mindfulness Matters that she conducted with three hundred children and twelve teachers.
The group had a thirty-minute mindfulness session once per week, and each day after held ten-minute practice sessions. This continued for the entire year.
Snel writes, “Both students and teachers responded with enthusiasm and noticed positive changes, such as a calmer atmosphere in the classroom, better concentration, and more openness. The kids became kinder to themselves and others, more confident, and less judgmental.”
When I bring up the topics of yoga and mediation to some of my friends, I am often met with the response, “That won’t make me relax.” And I know the feeling. The only reason I even began the practice of mediation was because my yoga teacher said I could do it for five minutes and in the car (not while driving, of course, but in the driveway.)
I’m no expert. But I feel that over the year, something has developed in my practice, as if there is a place in my mind that I return to when I settle down and let the thoughts flow, no longer chasing them or judging or hurrying myself to “relax.”
If you think the changes are all in our heads—you’re right, in a way. But the positive effects of mediation are not purely emotional or imaginary. There’s evidence that the brain actually changes.
So the question is, where does mediation fit into our school wellness programs and our own routines at home?
Time is limited; are we willing to “take 10” to meditate?
A 2011 study by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital is a persuasive argument for making meditation and mindfulness a part of your family’s life.
Participants were divided into two groups, with one partaking in mindfulness related stress reduction exercises. MR images were taken of both groups two weeks before and two weeks after the eight-week study.
For the group that practiced meditation for roughly 27 minutes a day, an article in the Harvard Gazette says:
“The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”
The article quotes the senior author of the study, Sara Lazar, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day…This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
The idea of the brain’s ability to change, or its plasticity, is relatively new. Meditation on the other hand….
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Mindprint is now in Beta mode! Come visit the site and click around–there’s plenty to see now. And see Sarah’s new post in The Washington Post’s On Parenting blog.