The mental health of our children and young people is now a huge concern not just to parents but to everyone in education and in Government. Mental health and wellbeing is recognised as the bedrock of emotional resilience; if our minds are consumed by anxiety or depression, learning cannot take place, nor can our potential be achieved.
As a result, more educational institutions are taking an active role in promoting mental health and emotional wellbeing, and one of the most popular methods is mindfulness.
Mindfulness has its roots in Zen Buddhism but was developed scientifically by its originator, John Cabat-Zinn, now Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) dates back to 1979 and was an eight-week course of weekly group classes and a one-day retreat. It has since been used extensively and now can be found in hospitals, education centres and even military training facilities.
The essence of mindfulness is being non-judgementally present in the moment, allowing oneself to notice physical sensations, and particularly focus on breathing, and avoiding unnecessary mental activity especially that which leads to catastrophising. Body-scanning is often used as the first stage and involves focusing on the body and the breathing.
- Here is a BBC clip with some testimony from young pupils on their experience of mindfulness: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-39082415/mindfulness-to-help-children-s-mental-well-being-in-schools
- The Mindfulness in Schools project https://mindfulnessinschools.org/ runs courses for teachers to train them in mindfulness. Their website contains a review of the evidence for mindfulness and its impact on school staff: https://mindfulnessinschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Evidence-for-Mindfulness-Impact-on-school-staff.pdf
- The growing popularity of mindfulness practice in educational establishments shows no sign of slowing down. The Wellcome Trust is working with 76 schools on a long-term research project on the effectiveness of teaching mindfulness in schools: https://wellcome.ac.uk/press-release/large-scale-trial-will-assess-effectiveness-teaching-mindfulness-uk-schools
The £6.4 million research programme is being carried out by teams at the University of Oxford, UCL (University College London) and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, in collaboration with the University of Exeter, over seven years. The project started in 2015 and involves 76 schools and almost 6000 students aged 11-14, and includes the first large randomised control trial of mindfulness training compared with normal teaching.
- The practice and theory of mindfulness has now become mainstream and the NHS website has a guide to mindfulness: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/
More information and resources on mindfulness
- A BBC iWonder guide to mindfulness is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z9fgycwand there is a BBC collection of clips related to mindfulness at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02gfr9nand a BBC feature on mindfulness and how it has been used to improve mental health http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/29CpTyCrC3YQSkfb3fTDf5q/how-mindfulness-could-help-you-balance-your-mental-health
- Michael Moseley went in search of mindfulness and underwent an experiment to see how it worked for him, wearing an EEG (electroencephalogram) cap to measure the effect on his brain http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3dqFp4tkhsZ1VR97X0cmqhg/should-i-try-mindfulness
- A Radio 1 Extra programme hears some quite lengthy and detailed accounts from three people who use mindfulness: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05v9m8h
- In 2016, a group of BBC School Reporters from Connaught School for Girls in Leytonstone, east London, decided to investigate mindfulness for their School Report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35688048
- More information on the Mindfulness in Schools campaign can be found here: https://www.mindfulnessfoundation.org.uk/
- A number of HE institutions have embraced the practice (as described in this 2016 piece in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/26/mindfulness-craze-schools-university-near-you-cambridge ) as a means of supporting good mental health for their students.
- Monash University in Australia has integrated mindfulness into its medical courses and also runs a Futurelearn course on Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/mindfulness-wellbeing-performance