“My hope and wish is that one day, formal education will pay attention to what I call education of the heart” (Brownbridge). Schooling is an essential part of a young adult’s life. Their teachers introduce to them the biological wonders of the world; immerse them in Shakespeare masterpieces; guide them in the sea of mathematics; and show them how to contribute to their society. However, for many students school has inadvertently become a place of dread. The trove of knowledge that is crammed in the heads of teenagers is beginning to overwhelm their hearts. One’s education has been priced at the cost of their mental wellbeing (Brownbridge). Yet, a simple practice promises to set young students in the path of balance.
Mindfulness helps teenagers overcome unhealthy stress and pressure, giving them their full ability to learn and explore what the world has to offer. The practice of mindfulness seems to have arrived in American society in the past decade or so. However, it is only just being implemented in schools, an environment that is arguably in need of it the most. Despite its new history in Western society, mindfulness and other forms of meditations have been around for centuries. Meditation practices were first established by early Buddhist monks (Lunau). It was used as a way to connect to yourself spiritually.
It was a common practice for a monk that was questioning their purpose in the world to look within themselves to find the answer (Nisbet). This is a contrasting outlook and source of motivation to many other religious groups. Meditation looks inside, while a practice such as prayer is more focused on outside powers. Buddhist monks also used meditation as a blockade to outside distractions (Nisbet).
This is also a common cause for individuals to use meditation today. American society is built on accomplishing as much as possible in the smallest amount of time. This is especially true of devoted students, who often feel guilty if their schedules are not stacked completely to the top. The creation of present-day mindfulness can be credited to Dr. Kabat-Zinn. Zinn was inspired by three specific Buddhist sources and formulated a structured stress-relieving practice he called “mindfulness” (Howard).
His first inspiration was Indian Buddhism. Mindfulness is connected to the Pali words “sati”, an Indian tradition that suggests awareness and supreme focus, and “vipassana” meaning insight (Nisbet). Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s second source of mindfulness was Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists live on very clear, yet very complicated philosophies. The overarching themes of these philosophies are focus and inner piety (Lunau).
The third and final source of Buddhist influence on Zinn were the practices of Japanese Zen. Their tradition of “zazen” involves the lotus position and a series of breathing patterns. These Zen practices are often seen as the staple of meditation in America today (Nisbet). Each Buddhist sect has their own type of mindfulness practice. However, what all of the Buddhist practices and traditions have in common are an emphasis on awareness, controlled breathing, and simplicity. Straightforward breathing techniques are considered the most fundamental part of current mindfulness practice. Their simplicity insures people of all ages and levels are able to utilize the power of being mindful (Shoot).
One of the primary reasons there has been a push to use mindfulness over other forms of meditation is its simplicity and emphasis on non-judgement. The bedrock to this practice of peace is the careful observation of one’s thoughts. Being aware of your emotions and what thoughts are causing them is one of the first steps (Howard). Many times, people, young adults especially, focus all of their time trying to get rid of the problem and ignore what is actually causing it. Mindfulness is tailored to do quite the opposite. One must acknowledge and take action against the source; the negative emotions attached to the source will disappear as a result (Howard).
Teenagers today have the habit of being too much in their head. They often have trouble sleeping because they cannot stop thinking about their worries (Williams). Although mindfulness is centered around the idea of being in your head, it is a passive form. One does not want to repress their emotions, as this is simply bottling-up them up and allowing them to burst out in a rage (Williams). This is one reason why depressed teens often resort to violence and anger to express their frustrations and sadness (Williams). However, depressed teens can also react in the opposite way and completely become immune to their emotions. This can lead to even more complexities. Self-reflection is much more emphasized by mindfulness than self-control (Williams).
Stress and anxiety are two of the main perpetrators of dissatisfaction in teenagers. With the education system putting nearly all of their focus on grades, students easily become overwhelmed with pressure to master everything that they do. Furthermore, school sports, extracurricular activities and social media put even more unnecessary stress on students (Brownbridge). Mindfulness is used to limit this teenage anxiety.
Being able to categorize one’s stress and determine if it is necessary is essential (Janes). Through mindful practices, teens gain a sense of perspective. They help teenagers to realize that a failed test is much less important than one’s mental health.
However, much of young adult anxiety is caused by stress from other people. It has been found that a parent’s stress affects a child with much magnitude (Howard). Just as children pick up on a parent’s speech patterns and way they carry themselves, they pick up on how they cope with difficult situations . When parents inadvertently allow a meltdown to invade on their children, another layer of stress is added to them (Howard). Therefore, it is equally important for the success of a child’s mindfulness, that a parent remains mindful.
The significance of an environment of mindfulness is magnified in homes that are affected by conditions such as ADD and ADHD.While mindfulness benefits all young adults, it can be especially helpful for individuals with mental disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Howard). Young adults with the attention disorders ADD or ADHD, often find it more difficult than normal to focus time on the maintenance on their mental health (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia). This makes mindfulness difficult, but all the more important. On the contrary, those affected with PTSD often become too involved in their thoughts and are impacted by a traumatic event for extended amounts of time (Howard). Mindfulness has proven to be a successful addition to many individuals’ treatment plans, yet, mindfulness impacts every individual in different ways. This is why mindfulness has evolved into many different, unique practices.
There is no one way to practice mindfulness. A range of methods have been developed to accommodate a specific person’s needs and goals for themselves. While the central concept behind mindfulness is controlled self-reflection on your thoughts, one can go about this in a number of ways. One of the most common forms of mindfulness practice is mindfulness meditation (Rosenfeld). This is the most formal and structured form of mindfulness. Mindful meditation is usually done in the sitting or lying position. It involves placing your body and mind in the same place at the same time (Rosenfeld). Mindful meditation emphasizes the importance of being one with your thoughts and emotions.
For many, this creates too much pressure. To limit this intimidation, another form of mindfulness practice, integrated breathing techniques, was created (Shoot). These techniques are formulated to take only a few minutes out of one’s day. There is no set schedule or method to integrated breathing. When an individual feels particularly overwhelmed, say before a big exam or competition, they are advised to take a mindful moment. One should acknowledge their pressing thoughts while paying particular attention to their breathing rate (Shoot). Even this technique of mindfulness can prove to be difficult as it is easy to forget amidst a stressful schedule.
However, mindfulness can be incorporated into daily life to prevent any form of invasiveness. Mindful eating is a common practice that many preoccupied people find beneficial (Howard). It is important, nevertheless, that some level of focus is put into simple practices such as mindful eating. Focus on each bite: the movement of your mouth when you chew; the texture of the food against your tongue; the unique taste to each bite.
Mindfulness has evolved into many specific practices that can be tailored further to one’s needs, especially for young adults. In recent years there has been a push to make mindfulness available for all young adults. One way in which this has been attempted is the creation of comprehensive mindfulness programs.
Formed by Buddhist Sanctuaries first, these programs range from two and forty days (Howard). They incorporate specialist instruction, detailed teaching, and individual practice. Mindfulness training, as it is formally recognized, have intensity levels for a participant’s amount of mindfulness experience (Howard). The introductory levels ask individuals to devote no more than five minutes of mindful reflection each day.
This is the most common level for young adults because it is the least involved and least daunting. The upper levels of mindfulness training can call for up to an hour of reflection (Howard). Many high schools and colleges have recently chosen to offer mindfulness training for their teachers. On top of learning the practice of mindfulness themselves, teachers are taught how to implement mindful practices into their classrooms (Roberts). This push to incorporate mindfulness into public education has been particularly effective in elementary schools where the curriculum is less demanding and timed (Roberts). Despite its proven success, the inclusion of mindfulness in schools has led to a degree of controversy. Much of the controversy surrounding the promotion of mindfulness in the public school system is based on its history.
As mindfulness practices have deep roots within religion, many people believe it should be completely separate from education (Brownbridge). Meditation, which is heavily linked to mindfulness, is a Buddhist practice that has a devoted following, but also a determined opposition. Therefore, many parents are against having their child learn these practices, despite their proven benefits.
Mindfulness is also compared to existential meditation, which is profusely detested many sects of Christianity (Brownbridge). In recent years, a number of public schools, namely in the south, have had massive push-back to the inclusion of mindful techniques in curriculum (Brownbridge). The intensity of this opposition can be traced when one is made aware of groups that are devoutly opposed to the teaching of yoga in gym classes (Thorn). Nevertheless, there have been a number of schools that have experienced high levels of acceptance in their addition of mindfulness into their education. Many Canadian schools have balanced secular mindfulness practices with their education and have seen promising results (Lunau). American schools have as well and in very unique ways.There are a growing number of public schools that have created a mindfulness program for their teaching and student body.
A common way mindfulness is introduced is through presentations and lectures (Brownbridge). More to eradicate any misconceptions, these presentations often include a mindfulness expert and hands-on activities (Howard). There has also been an increasing amount of Mindfulness Steering Committees being formed. These committees are made up of a mix of teaching and student populations. The students, labeled Mindfulness Ambassadors, are tasked with maintaining the central statement of the committee. Though this statement may vary, it normally includes the group’s goal for immersing mindfulness into their school. The teachers support the ambassadors, as well as include all departments of staff in the pursuit of a mindful environment. A mindfulness committee looks to make mindfulness accessible to all members of the student body, no matter the age.
Often, a committee will design a “mindful space” for high schoolers and fund an afterschool program for middle school students. Education systems that have opted to create programs and groups such as Mindfulness Steering Committees, have seen the most success in integrating mindfulness into their school. Above the public backing of mindfulness programs in schools is the government funding of them. Although private schools may have the income to form a variety of opportunities for students looking for mindfulness, most public schools do not. Therefore, it is essential that there is some level of government recognition and involvement for the incorporation of mindfulness in education (Brownbridge). For state or federal governments to back a mindfulness program in any way, they have to be certain that the methods are taught secularly. There has been a gradual increase in the amount schools in the United States that have gained state support for mindfulness programs (Thorn). However, in the United Kingdom there has been more drastic support by Parliament.
Much of this has to do with a recent study that found English students to be one of the most stressed student bodies in the world (Brownbridge). One of the leading parliament members to advocate federal support of mindful practices in education was Labour Representative, Christopher Ruane. He led a televised debate at Westminster Hall in 2013 that discussed this topic (Brownbridge). Following the debate, parliament decided to include extra funding for these programs.
There has yet to be a successful campaign by a public officer for mindfulness education in the United States. The increasing number of scientific studies that prove the benefits of mindfulness in children are looking to change this. One of the most influential and well known mindfulness studies on young adults was done by Anna Lau, professor of clinical psychology at UCLA, and Joey Fung, assistant professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. The study’s main goal was to identify the level of stress present in the American public schools system and, through implementing controlled practices, the impact mindfulness has on students’ academic and social functioning (Williams).
The research program concentrated on the impact of mindfulness in minority youth, a group that has been found to have particularly high levels of stress and depression. After receiving a $49,909 research grant from the Spencer Foundation, Lau and Fung began their three year program in the Alhambra Unified School District of California (Williams). This district is notable for having a high minority student body with 52% being Asian and 42% Latino or Latina. As a preliminary step, the researchers carried out a benchmark depression screening on all eighth grade students. This provided them with the baseline level to compare their findings (Williams).
After determining which students were in the twentieth percentile of depression level, Lau and Fung received permission to include them in their study. The researchers then moved on to the practical side of their study. Once a week, two student leaders led fifty to sixty minutes of mindfulness practice (Williams). They continued this for the next two years finding that students tested much lower levels of depression, as well as feel less aggression towards their peers. In some cases, Lau and Fung found that it took as little as three months to see results (Williams). The research study is has received another grant for their work and are currently in their third year of research. Research studies, like the Lau-Fung Mindfulness Study, have shown clear indication that mindful practices are beneficial to the American high school student in many ways. With an education system that creates such an environment of stress, mindful practices have proven to reduce anxiety and improve social and academic performances.
Mindfulness has a particular effect on young adults with ADD and ADHD (Howard). Furthermore, it has been recognized that minority youth, who are at a higher risk of childhood depression, are also among the most benefited (Williams). Despite the clear distinction that mindfulness is a tool of self-reflection and not religion, its historic connection with Buddhism has limited its integration into the education system.
Regardless, mindfulness continues to be an outlet for students to remove themselves from the whirlwind that is their world.