“Every moment is a new beginning, another opportunity for tuning in, and perhaps coming – in that very moment – to see and feel and know ourselves and our children in a new and deeper way.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
What is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, tells us that mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment.”
Mindfulness has a long history. For more than 2,500 years contemplative traditions world-wide have used this practice to help reduce physical and emotional suffering. In the last thirty years, mindfulness has emerged as a research-based intervention in stress-reduction and now has applications in cognitive therapy, pain management, education, and more.
How does mindfulness work? By bringing attention to our mental processes and cultivating the skills of concentration, clarity, and non-reactivity, we actually change brain function and structure. Areas of the brain responsible for executive function and empathy grow in volume. Areas of the brain corresponding to the stress response decrease in volume (Lazar, Harvard, 2011).
What does this mean for young people and children? The largest study to date on mindfulness with youth produced significant improvements in both attentional control and classroom engagement, key factors for academic success (1). What’s more, a growing body of research is showing that executive function predicts a child’s success as well as – if not better than – IQ (2). This set of learnable skills enables young people to self-direct behavior, reflect deeply, and to consider things from multiple points of view.
Imagine your classroom, or your entire school, beginning each morning by settling into silence, focusing attention, and entering into a place of open-mindedness and receptivity. Now imagine your students knowing how to return to this place on their own throughout the day.
The Center on the Developing Mind at Harvard University writes, “When children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, individuals and society experience lifelong benefits. These skills are crucial for learning and development. They also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families.”
“Can you imagine a world in which this health-promoting, empathy-enhancing, executive-attention developing, self-compassion nurturing, affordable, and adaptable mental practice was made available in everyone’s life?” – Dan Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at, UCLA School of Medicine, Co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.
The above video features leading neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson explaining how happiness and well-being are best regarded as a set of learnable skills. The film may be viewed in its entirety here, and includes Mindful Schools teachers bringing this training to students in Berkeley, California plus insight into how mindfulness affects brain architecture and function.
(1.) University of California Davis, Mindful Schools, 2011. (2.) Adele Diamond, University of British Columbia, 2012., Zelazo, University of Minnesota, 2010., Temper and Inzlicht, 2013.