What do you think of when you read or hear the word “mindfulness”? Deep breathing? A cross-legged yoga pose? The latest wishy-washy self-help fad? Mindfulness has become such a buzzword in magazines and on TV lifestyle programs that you could be forgiven for dismissing it as just another unproven alternative therapy.
Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of hard science to say that mindfulness, which basically boils down to focusing on the here and now, works. Not just as a tool for fighting anxiety and depression but in boosting attention spans and productivity, protecting the heart, shortening migraines and sharpening senses. And the practice, which has been used in the workplaces of Apple, Google, Nike and Deutsche Bank for stress management, has in recent years become more widespread in classrooms, including in Australia.
Studies suggest mindfulness improves learning and mental health, even in primary school students.Credit:Getty Images
“Children now face so many distractions and are burdened with so many anxieties about the world,” says Janet Etty-Leal, 64, who has been meditating twice a day for more than 40 years and is the author of Meditation Capsules: A Mindfulness Program for Children. “When I started teaching meditation 20 years ago, some people thought it was for vegetarians and monks. Now there is an acceptance that it teaches invaluable coping skills, enhances learning and reduces the risk of mental health problems, even at primary school levels.”
Studies, including of children with ADHD, have shown that mindfulness can strengthen focus and impulse control and improve schoolwork. In Etty-Leal’s classes – she’s been taking them at Geelong Grammar School for 12 years – students are taught to nurture awareness through deep breathing, focusing on the body and tuning into the present.
“The big difference between mindfulness and just feeling relaxed is awareness,” says Etty-Leal, who will participate in the Global Mindfulness in Education Summit from November 4 to 8. “Simple, creative mindfulness practices reset the brain for learning and offer children opportunities to befriend themselves and make the most of their minds. Mindfulness can provide your kids with a head start for life.”
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