Most people enjoy music. Maybe we don’t all like the same kinds of tunes, but whether your prefer classical or country, RnB or rock, neuroscience research suggests that the part of the brain associated with highs from sex, drugs and (my weakness) chocolate also generates our pleasurable response to melodies and harmonies. This is the nucleus accumbens, [...]
For a number of years, scientists have studied brain and genetic abnormalities alongside crime. This work has produced some exciting findings, and some which have been used to argue for leniency in the justice system. We now know that certain genetic variations, such as monoamine oxidase, are linked to violent behaviour. The question is can [...]
Although research on mindfulness, especially with children and adolescents, is still in relatively early stages, an increasing number of studies have shown the potential benefits of mindfulness practices for students in terms of their physical health, psychological well-being, social skills, academic performance, and more. Other studies have indicated that mindfulness may be effective for reducing stress and burnout in teachers and administrators as well. The following list of selected articles, with brief descriptions of each study and its results, provides an overview of the current research evidence on mindfulness in education. Click here for a downloadable PDF of this list. Mindfulness and Students Barnes, V. A., Bauza, L. B., & Treiber, F. A. (2003). Impact of stress reduction on negative school behavior in adolescents. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 1(10). Forty-five African American adolescents (ages 15–18 years) were randomly assigned to either a Transcendental Meditation (TM) group (n = 25) or a health education control group (n = 20). The TM group engaged in 15-min meditation sessions at home and at school each day for 4 months. The control group was presented 15-min sessions of health education at school each day for 4 months. Findings demonstrated that the students who received the TM program showed reduced rates of absenteeism, rule infractions, and suspensions compared to the control group. Barnes, V. A., Treiber, F. A., & Davis, H. (2001). Impact of transcendental meditation on cardiovascular function at rest and during acute stress in adolescents with high normal blood pressure. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 51, 597–605. This study examined the impact of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program on cardiovascular reactivity in adolescents with high normal blood pressure. Thirty-five adolescents (34 African Americans) were randomly assigned to either TM (n = 17) or health education control (CTL, n = 18) groups. The TM group engaged in 15-min meditation twice each day for 2 months. The TM program appeared to have a beneficial impact upon cardiovascular functioning at rest and during acute laboratory stress in adolescents at-risk for hypertension, as the TM group exhibited greater decreases in resting blood pressure as well as other improvements compared to the control group. Beauchemin, J., Hutchins, T. L., & Patterson, F. (2008). Mindfulness meditation may lessen anxiety, promote social skills, and improve academic performance among adolescents with learning disabilities. Complementary Health Practice Review, 13, 34–45. Students with learning disabilities (LD; defined by compromised academic performance) often have higher levels of anxiety, school-related stress, and less optimal social skills compared with their typically developing peers. Previous health research indicates that meditation and relaxation training may be effective in reducing anxiety and promoting social skills. This pilot study used a pre–post no-control design to examine feasibility of, attitudes toward, and outcomes of a 5-week mindfulness meditation intervention administered to 34 adolescents diagnosed with LD. Post-intervention survey responses overwhelmingly expressed positive attitudes toward the program. All outcome measures showed significant improvement, with participants who completed the program demonstrating decreased state and trait anxiety, enhanced social skills, and improved academic performance. Birdee, G. S., Yeh, G. Y., Wayne, P. M., Phillips, R. S., Davis, R. B., & Gardiner, P. (2009). Clinical applications of yoga for the pediatric population: A systematic review. Academic Pediatrics, 9, 212–220. This review was conducted to evaluate the evidence for clinical applications of yoga among the pediatric population (0-21 years of age). Thirty-four controlled studies were identified published from 1979 to 2008, Clinical areas for which yoga has been studied include physical fitness, cardio-respiratory effects, motor skills/strength, mental health and psychological disorders, behavior and development, irritable bowel syndrome, and birth outcomes following prenatal yoga. No adverse events were reported in trials reviewed. While a large majority of studies were positive, results are preliminary based on low quantity and quality of trials. Further research of yoga for children utilizing a higher standard of methodology and reporting is warranted. Biegel, G. M., Brown, K. W., Shapiro, S. L., & Schubert, C. M. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for the treatment of adolescent psychiatric outpatients: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77, 855–866. The present randomized clinical trial was designed to assess the effect of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for 102 adolescents age 14 to 18 years with different diagnoses in an outpatient psychiatric facility. Relative to treatment-as-usual control participants, those receiving MBSR self-reported reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and somatic distress, and increased self-esteem and sleep quality. Also, the MBSR group showed a higher percentage of diagnostic improvement over the 5-month study period and significant increases in global assessment of functioning scores relative to controls. Broderick, P. C., & Metz, S. (2009). Learning to BREATHE: A pilot trial of a mindfulness curriculum for adolescents. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 2(1), 35-46. This study reports the results of a pilot trial of Learning to BREATHE, a mindfulness curriculum for adolescents created for a classroom setting. The primary goal of the program is to support the development of emotion regulation skills through the practice of mindfulness. The total class of 120 seniors from a private girls’ school participated as part of their health curriculum. Relative to controls, participants reported decreased negative affect and increased feelings of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance. Improvements in emotion regulation and decreases in tiredness and aches and pains were significant in the treatment group at the conclusion of the program. Carei, T. R., Fyfe-Johnson, A. L., Breuner, C. C., & Brown, M. A. (2010). Randomized controlled clinical trial of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46, 346–351. This was a pilot project designed to assess the effect of individualized yoga treatment on eating disorder outcomes among adolescents receiving outpatient care for diagnosed eating disorders. 50 girls and 4 boys, aged 11–21 years, were randomized to an 8 week trial of standard care versus individualized yoga plus standard care. The yoga group demonstrated greater decreases in eating disordered symptoms. Both groups maintained current BMI levels and decreased in anxiety and depression over time. Davidson, R. J., Dunne, J., Eccles, J. S., Engle, A., Greenberg, M., Jennings, P., . . . Vago, D. (2012). Contemplative practices and mental training: Prospects for American education. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 146-153. This article draws on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. Flook, L., Smalley, S. L., Kitil, M. J., Galla, B. M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., . . . Kasari, C. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26(1), 70-95. A school-based program of mindful awareness practices (MAPs) was evaluated in a randomized control study of 64 second- and third-grade children ages 7–9 years. The program was delivered for 30 minutes, twice per week, for 8 weeks. Children in the MAPs group who were less well regulated showed greater improvement in executive function (EF) compared with controls. Specifically, those children starting out with poor EF who went through the MAPs training showed gains in behavioral regulation, metacognition, and overall global executive control. Galantino, M. L., Galbavy, R., & Quinn, L. (2008). Therapeutic effects of yoga for children: A systematic review of the literature. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 20, 66–80. This study is a systematic review of the literature on the effect of yoga (as an exercise intervention for children) on quality of life and physical outcome measures in the pediatric population. The evidence shows physiological benefits of yoga for the pediatric population that may benefit children through the rehabilitation process, but larger clinical trials, including specific measures of quality of life, are necessary to provide definitive evidence. Greenberg, M. T., & Harris, A. R. (2012). Nurturing mindfulness in children and youth: Current state of research. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 161-166. This article reviews the current state of research on contemplative practices with children and youth. It reviews contemplative practices used both in treatment settings and in prevention or health promotion contexts, including school-based programs. Interventions that nurture mindfulness in children and youth may be a feasible and effective method of building resilience in universal populations and in the treatment of disorders in clinical populations. This review suggests that meditation and yoga may be associated with beneficial outcomes for children and youth, but the generally limited quality of research tempers the allowable conclusions. Gregoski, M. J., Barnes, V. A., Tingen, M. S., Harshfield, G. A., & Treiber, F. A. (2010). Breathing awareness meditation and LifeSkills Training Programs influence upon ambulatory blood pressure and sodium excretion among African American adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 48, 59–64. To evaluate the effects of breathing awareness meditation (BAM), Botvin LifeSkills Training (LST), and health education control (HEC), 166 African American adolescent participants with moderately high blood pressure (and thus an increased risk for development of cardiovascular disease) were randomized by school to either BAM (n = 53), LST (n = 69), or HEC (n = 44). In-school intervention sessions were administered for 3 months by health education teachers. The BAM treatment exhibited the greatest overall decreases in blood pressure and heart rate. Harrison, L. J., Manocha, R., & Rubia, K. (2004). Sahaja yoga meditation as a family treatment programme for children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 9, 479–497. This study investigated meditation as a family treatment method for children with ADHD, using the techniques of Sahaja Yoga Meditation (SYM). Parents and children participated in a 6-week program of twice-weekly clinic sessions and regular meditation at home. Results showed improvements in children’s ADHD behavior, self-esteem, and relationship quality. Children described benefits at home (better sleep patterns, less anxiety) and at school (more able to concentrate, less conflict). Parents reported feeling happier, less stressed and more able to manage their child’s behavior. Jensen, P., & Kenny, D. (2004). The effects of yoga on the attention and behavior of boys with Attention-Deficit ⁄ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Journal of Attention Disorders, 7, 205–216. Boys diagnosed with ADHD by specialist pediatricians and stabilized on medication were randomly assigned to a 20-session yoga group (n = 11) or a control group (cooperative activities; n = 8). Significant improvements from pre-test to post-test were found for the yoga, but not for the control group on five subscales of a parent rating scale, along with some other positive effects. Although these data do not provide strong support for the use of yoga for ADHD, partly because the study was under-powered, they do suggest that yoga may have merit as a complementary treatment for boys with ADHD already stabilized on medication, particularly for its evening effect when medication effects are absent. Lawlor, M. S., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Gadermann, A. M., & Zumbo, B. D. (2012). A Validation Study of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale Adapted for Children. Mindfulness, 1-12. A total of 286 fourth to seventh grade children completed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale—Children (MAAS-C), a modified version of a measure designed to assess mindfulness in adults. Results indicated that mindfulness, as assessed via the MAAS-C, was related in expected directions to indicators of well-being across the domains of traits and attributes, emotional disturbance, emotional wellbeing, and eudaimonic well-being. These findings were in accord with those of previous research with the MAAS in adult populations. Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M. T., Dariotis, J. K., Gould, L. F., Rhoades, B. L., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(7), 985-994. Mindfulness-based approaches may improve adjustment among chronically stressed and disadvantaged youth by enhancing self-regulatory capacities. This paper reports findings from a pilot randomized controlled trial assessing the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness and yoga intervention. Four urban public schools were randomized to an intervention or wait-list control condition (n = 97 fourth and fifth graders, 60.8% female). Findings suggest the intervention was attractive to students, teachers, and school administrators and that it had a positive impact on problematic responses to stress including rumination, intrusive thoughts, and emotional arousal. Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness training for elementary school students: The attention academy. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99-125. This article presents results of a formative evaluation of whether participation in a mindfulness training program affected first, second, and third grade students’ outcomes on measures of attention. The training was designed and intended to help students learn to focus and pay attention. The 24-week training employed a series of exercises including breathwork, bodyscan, movement, and sensorimotor awareness activities. Results from three attentional measures administered to the students show significant differences between those who did and did not participate in mindfulness practice training. Oberle, E., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Lawlor, M. S., & Thomson, K. C. (2012). Mindfulness and inhibitory control in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 32(4), 565-588. 99 fourth- and fifth-grade students completed a measure of mindful attention awareness (self-reported dispositional mindfulness) and a computerized executive function (EF) task assessing inhibitory control. Controlling for gender, grade, and cortisol levels, higher scores on the mindfulness attention awareness measure significantly predicted greater accuracy (% correct responses) on the inhibitory control task. This research identifies mindfulness—a skill that can be fostered and trained in intervention programs to promote health and well-being—as significantly related to inhibitory processes in early adolescence. Razza, R. A., Bergen-Cico, D., & Raymond, K. (2013). Enhancing preschoolers’ self-regulation via mindful yoga. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1062-1024. This study evaluated the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based yoga intervention in promoting self-regulation among preschool children (3–5 years old). Twenty-nine children (16 intervention and 13 control) participated in the yearlong study. The mindful yoga intervention was implemented regularly by the classroom teacher for the treatment group. Results from direct assessments indicated significant effects of the intervention across three indices of self-regulation. There was also some evidence that the children who were most at risk of self-regulation dysfunction benefited the most from the intervention. Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lawlor, M. S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre- and early adolescents’ well-being and social and emotional competence. Mindfulness, 1(3), 137-151. This study evaluated the effectiveness of the Mindfulness Education (ME) program, which focuses on facilitating the development of social and emotional competence and positive emotions and has as its cornerstone daily lessons in which students engage in mindful attention training. Participants were 246 students in the 4th to 7th grades. Results revealed that students who participated in the ME program, compared to those who did not, showed significant increases in optimism from pretest to posttest. Similarly, improvements on dimensions of teacher-rated classroom social competent behaviors were found favoring ME program students. Program effects also were found for self-concept, although the ME program demonstrated more positive benefits for preadolescents than for early adolescents. Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: Promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218-229. Program development of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children (MBCT-C) is described along with results of the initial randomized controlled trial. Participants were boys and girls aged 9–13 (N = 25), mostly ethnic minorities from low-income, inner-city households. Participants who completed the program showed fewer attention problems than wait-listed controls and those improvements were maintained at three months following the intervention. A strong relationship was found between attention problems and behavior problems. Significant reductions in anxiety symptoms and behavior problems were found for those children who reported clinically elevated levels of anxiety at pretest. Semple, R. J., Reid, E. F. G., & Miller, L. (2005). Treating anxiety with mindfulness: An open trial of mindfulness training for anxious children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19, 379–392. This study is an open clinical trial that examined the feasibility and acceptability of a mindfulness training program for anxious children. Since impaired attention is a core symptom of anxiety, enhancing self-management of attention should effect reductions in anxiety. A 6-week trial was conducted with five anxious children aged 7 to 8 years old. The results of this study suggest that mindfulness can be taught to children and holds promise as an intervention for anxiety symptoms. Tang, Y., Yang, L., Leve, L. D., & Harold, G. T. (2012). Improving executive function and its neurobiological mechanisms through a mindfulness-based intervention: Advances within the field of developmental neuroscience. Child Development Perspectives, 6(4), 361-366. Mindfulness-based interventions that focus on increasing awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions have been shown to improve specific aspects of executive function (EF), including attention, cognitive control, and emotion regulation. This article reviews research relevant to one specific mindfulness-based intervention, integrative body-mind training (IBMT). Randomized controlled trials of IBMT indicate improvements in specific EF components, and uniquely highlight the role two brain-based mechanisms that underlie IBMT-related improvements. Short-term IBMT may improve specific dimensions of EF and thus prevent a cascade of risk behaviors for children and adolescents. Thompson M., Gauntlett-Gilbert J. (2008). Mindfulness with children and adolescents: Effective clinical application. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 13, 395-407. This article aims to provide an overview of mindfulness to professionals who are working in child or adolescent settings. Initially, it provides some orientation to and definitions from the field, before summarizing the current evidence for the utility of the approach. The article recommends specific clinical modifications for mindfulness with children and adolescents, as well as reviewing how to monitor and enhance the development of this skill. Finally, it highlights important differences among mindfulness, relaxation and other meditative techniques. Van der Oord, S., Bogels, S. M., & Peijnenburg, D. (2012). The effectiveness of mindfulness training for children with ADHD and mindful parenting for their parents. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21(1), 139-147. This study evaluated the effectiveness of an 8-week mindfulness training for children aged 8–12 with ADHD and parallel mindful parenting training for their parents. There was a significant reduction of parent-rated ADHD behavior of themselves and their child from pre-to posttest and from pre- to follow-up test. Further, there was a significant increase of mindful awareness from pre-to posttest and a significant reduction of parental stress and overreactivity from pre-to follow-up test. Teacher-ratings showed non-significant effects, however. Zelazo, P. D., & Lyons, K. E. (2012). The potential benefits of mindfulness training in early childhood: A developmental social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 154-160. Early childhood is marked by substantial development in the self-regulatory skills supporting school readiness and socioemotional competence. Mindfulness training—using age-appropriate activities to exercise children’s reflection on their moment- to-moment experiences—may support the development of self-regulation by targeting top-down processes while lessening bottom-up influences (such as anxiety, stress, curiosity) to create conditions conducive to reflection, both during problem solving and in more playful, exploratory ways. Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools – A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 603. This article systematically reviews the evidence regarding the effects of school-based mindfulness interventions on psychological outcomes. Twenty-four studies were identified, of which 13 were published. In total, 1348 students were instructed in mindfulness, with 876 serving as controls, ranging from grade 1 to 12. All in all, mindfulness-based interventions in children and youths hold promise, particularly in relation to improving cognitive performance and resilience to stress. However, the field is nascent; there is great heterogeneity, many studies are underpowered, and measuring effects of mindfulness in this setting is challenging. Mindfulness and Teachers Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., Bonus, K., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout, and teaching efficacy. Mind, Brian, and Education, 7(3), 182-195. This study reports results from a randomized controlled pilot trial of a modified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course (mMBSR) adapted specifically for teachers. Results suggest that the course may be a promising intervention, with participants showing significant reductions in psychological symptoms and burnout, improvements in observer-rated classroom organization and performance on a computer task of affective attentional bias, and increases in self-compassion. In contrast, control group participants showed declines in cortisol functioning over time and increases in burnout. Changes in mindfulness were correlated in the expected direction with changes across several outcomes (psychological symptoms, burnout, and sustained attention) in the intervention group. Jennings, P. A., Frank, J. L., Snowberg, K. E., Coccia, M. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2013). Improving classroom learning environments by cultivating awareness and resilience in education (CARE): Results of a randomized controlled trial. School Psychology Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/spq0000035 Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE for Teachers) is a mindfulness-based professional development program designed to reduce stress and improve teachers’ performance and classroom learning environments. A randomized controlled trial examined program efficacy and acceptability among a sample of 50 teachers randomly assigned to CARE or waitlist control condition. Participation in the CARE program resulted in significant improvements in teacher well- being, efficacy, burnout/time-related stress, and mindfulness compared with controls. Evaluation data showed that teachers viewed CARE as a feasible, acceptable, and effective method for reducing stress and improving performance. Roeser, R. W., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Jha, A., Cullen, M., Wallace, L., Wilensky, R., Oberle, E., Thomson, K., Taylor, C., & Harrison, J. (2013, April 29). Mindfulness Training and Reductions in Teacher Stress and Burnout: Results From Two Randomized, Waitlist-Control Field Trials. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0032093 The effects of randomization to mindfulness training (MT) or to a waitlist-control condition on psychological and physiological indicators of teachers’ occupational stress and burnout were examined in 2 field trials. The sample included 113 elementary and secondary school teachers (89% female) from Canada and the United States. Teachers randomized to MT showed greater mindfulness, focused attention and working memory capacity, and occupational self-compassion, as well as lower levels of occupational stress and burnout at post-program and follow-up, than did those in the control condition. Group differences in mindfulness and self- compassion at post-program mediated reductions in stress and burnout as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression at follow-up. Roeser, R.W., Skinner, E., Beers, J., & Jennings, P.A. (2012). Mindfulness training and teachers’ professional development: An emerging area of research and practice. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 167-173. This article focuses on how mindfulness training (MT) programs for teachers, by cultivating mindfulness and its application to stress management and the social-emotional demands of teaching, represent emerging forms of teacher professional development (PD) aimed at improving teaching in public schools. MT is hypothesized to promote teachers’ “habits of mind,” and thereby their occupational health, well-being, and capacities to create and sustain both supportive relationships with students and classroom climates conducive to student engagement and learning. This article discusses emerging MT programs for teachers and a logic model outlining potential MT program effects in educational settings. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2013). Mindfulness training for teachers changes the behavior of their preschool students. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 211-233. This study measured the effects of preschool teachers attending an 8-week mindfulness course on the behavior of the students in their classroom. Results showed that decreases in the students’ challenging behaviors and increases in their compliance with teacher requests began during mindfulness training for the teachers and continued to change following the training. While the students did not show a change in positive social interactions with peers, they did show a decrease in negative social interactions and an increase in isolate play. Results indicated that mindfulness training for teachers was effective in changing teacher-student interactions in desirable ways. Mindfulness and Administrators Wells, C. M. (2013). Principals Responding to Constant Pressure: Finding a Source of Stress Management. NASSP Bulletin, 0192636513504453. This conceptual article presents a review of the research concerning the stress level of principals over the past three decades, with emphasis on the occupational stress that principals encounter because of heightened accountability and expectations for student achievement. Mindfulness meditation, as a stress management intervention, provides the theoretical background for this article; the scientific evidence concerning benefits of mindfulness meditations are reviewed. Finally, the author presents suggestions for the prevention and reduction of stress for principals.
Mindfulness is now the fastest-developing area in mental health. Many therapists have come to regard cultivating moment-to-moment awareness as a curative mechanism that transcends diagnosis, addresses underlying causes of suffering, and serves as an active ingredient in most effective psychotherapies. The clinical value of mindfulness interventions has been demonstrated for many psychological difficulties, including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. And it doesn’t matter which therapeutic approach we take, be it psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic, or any other. Mindfulness practices can be tailored to fit the particular needs of our patients. Though historically mindfulness practices have been presented as one-size-fits-all remedies, as the field matures we’re beginning to understand how these practices affect different individuals with different problems, how to modify them in different clinical situations, and how to work with the inevitable obstacles that arise. Mindfulness can also enhance emotional well-being of clinicians, helping us develop beneficial therapeutic qualities such as acceptance, attention, compassion, equanimity, and presence that enrich and enliven our work and help us avoid burnout. Once we have developed these qualities in ourselves, we can safely and thoughtfully introduce our patients to practices that lead to a wide variety of clinical benefits. Here are a few ways that mindfulness can benefit a therapy situation, drawn from our new book, Sitting Together: Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy. 1. Mindfulness can be a refuge for the therapist In the practice of mindfulness, we bring attention to our experience in the present moment. We let go of our regrets and rumination about the past, or our worries about the future, and return our attention to what is happening right now. We start by focusing on the sounds in the room, the sensations of the breath, or the feeling of sitting in a chair with our feet touching the floor. As we develop this skill of being open to and accepting of whatever is emerging, we become more present in our experience and that of others. As we become less distracted and preoccupied with our own concerns, we can listen more fully. Recent research shows that therapists who practice mindfulness meditation enjoy a variety of benefits with no apparent negative effects. These include a decrease in perceived job stress and burnout, as well as an increase in self-acceptance, self-compassion, and sense of well-being. In addition, clinicians have reported improvements in their relationships with their patients, saying they had a greater capacity for empathy, and experienced an increased ability to be present without being defensive or reactive. You might be thinking that you are too busy to bring formal mindfulness practice into your clinical day. But even in the busiest clinical settings on the craziest days, there’s always a chance to practice informally. One of our favorite practices can be done before greeting your next patient. It is called “Two Feet, One Breath.” In this practice, you take a moment to pause, feel both feet on the floor, and then feel your inhalation and your exhalation. A simple intervention such as this only takes a moment and can help you center, come into the present moment, and connect with your patient. As you develop your practice, you’ll become more familiar with what we call “anchors,” places to which you return your attention when the mind has wandered. It’s like coming home after you’ve been away. The anchor offers a sense of safety and comfort. It can also be invaluable during a difficult clinical situation. Let’s say you’re sitting with a patient who’s angry with you, or who confesses he’s been planning suicide. You find yourself feeling anxious, afraid, or confused. You notice that you begin to clench your jaw and tighten your fists. Your shoulders rise toward your ears. You wonder what to do. Before formulating a response, you could try pausing for a moment to return to your breath, the sensations of sitting, or the sounds in the room. Or, you can silently say to yourself, May we both be well. May we both be free from suffering. May we both live in wisdom and compassion. Connecting with your breath or your compassionate intention gives you a chance to pause, to come back into the present moment, to dispel the clouds of fear and confusion, and to let your innate wisdom inform what you do next. 2. Mindfulness can deepen the therapeutic relationship Current studies suggest that in successful treatment alliances, therapists are perceived as warm, understanding, and accepting, approaching their patients with an open, collaborative attitude. Mindfulness can help us develop these qualities. The foundational skill in mindfulness meditation of concentration or focused attention can be very useful in the therapy hour, where so many factors can cause the mind to wander—for example, when the content of the session threatens us, or an outside worry distracts us, or the patient becomes disengaged, making his or her words less compelling, or we just get tired. Without mindfulness training, we may try to maintain attention by turning up the intensity or volume in order to keep things “interesting.” Through mindfulness practice, we instead learn how to turn up our attention, to practice presence independent of content, to bring our wholehearted attention to whatever is happening. Of the many factors that interfere with attention during therapy, one of the most challenging is the arousal of powerful and painful feelings. Most patients discuss difficult experiences of illness, loss, failure, and disappointment. Unless we’re very good at denial, we realize that these misfortunes could easily befall us or our loved ones. Or, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the pain and sadness we experience simply because we empathize with our patients. Mindfulness practices can be powerful tools to increase our tolerance for painful emotions, enhancing our ability to remain attentive while sitting with suffering. This is important for a strong alliance, because our patients usually express only those feelings they believe we can tolerate hearing. On the other hand, if we’re able to be with a fuller range of experience, this will help our patients do the same. Many people are surprised by what happens when they bring attention to physical discomforts in this way. Often they notice that pain sensations are not solid, but pulse and change from moment to moment, and sometimes pass without any special action on our part. By practicing being with discomfort during this concentration practice, we can gradually become better able to tolerate pain of all sorts, including the pain of difficult emotions. We can step back, seeing our thoughts and feelings as just thoughts and feelings, not as facts. Instead of getting lost in our perspective, we can redirect our attention to the patient and what is unfolding in the present moment. 3. Mindfulness can be a tool for our patients How can we make mindfulness accessible to the widest possible range of patients? What are some of the challenges that arise and how do we respond to them skillfully? To help skeptical folks engage with a particular practice, try presenting it as an experiment, suggesting that others in similar circumstances have found it to be useful. Depending on the situation, it can be useful to share information from research studies and possibly your personal experience with the practice. We suggest keeping it short, no longer than three to five minutes, and then ask for a status report by asking, “What are you noticing?” Feedback is useful in helping adapt or modify the practices for your patients. For example, when they say, “This isn’t working—I can’t get my thoughts to stop,” you’ll want to educate them that mindfulness isn’t about stopping thoughts, but coming into a kinder and more accepting relationship with them. If, however, someone reports, “This was really creepy. I had this image of my father standing over bed when I was a little girl,” you may want to modify the practice or set it aside for the time being and try a different approach. Especially for those who have a history of trauma, we suggest starting with a meditation like the one above that focuses on sound and being present, rather than following the breath, which can be a trigger for trauma survivors. Our goal in introducing mindfulness practices to patients is not to turn them all into dedicated meditation practitioners, but to help them find balance, kindness, and fulfillment in their lives. When research shows that even a taste of mindfulness can help, we owe it to our patients (and ourselves) to learn the practices and pass them on. For free downloadable meditations, go to sittingtogether.com.
Parenting is hard work, but having a child with a severe disability takes an extra toll. Mothers of children with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders report high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. This, in turn, can negatively impact how they care for their vulnerable children. Many studies have focused on therapies for the children, but the serious issue of parental stress has been largely overlooked—until now. A new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that both mindfulness and positive psychology techniques can reduce mothers’ stress. In their study, Elisabeth Dykens and her colleagues randomly assigned 243 mothers to a six-week group treatment program that employed either mindfulness techniques, like deep-belly breathing, or positive psychology exercises designed to foster virtues like gratitude and patience. Trained mentors who also had children with disabilities led the weekly hour-and-a-half sessions. The mothers completed mental health assessments before, during, and up to six months after the study. At the beginning of the study, 85 percent of the mothers reported significant stress levels. Many also suffered from mental illness—41 percent had anxiety disorders and 48 percent were clinically depressed. The researchers expected that certain mindfulness and positive psychology techniques would significantly improve their stress levels and mental health, because similar interventions have been successful in other group treatment studies. With the mindfulness group, mentors employed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program to teach mothers breathing, movement, and meditation techniques. Specific techniques included breathing exercises, self-observation without self-evaluation, loving-kindness meditations, and Qigong (gentle movements), among others. The positive psychology group learned evidence-based techniques that focused on dealing with feelings of guilt, worry, and pessimism, mainly by identifying and developing character strengths, doing exercises designed to foster “gratitude, forgiveness, grace and optimism.” Participants from both groups practiced their techniques as homework and shared how these exercises worked for them with their respective groups. Both treatments worked. They led to fewer feelings of anxiety and depression and fewer dysfunctional parent-child interactions. On average, mothers slept better and had greater life satisfaction during treatment. Even better, the mothers either maintained these improvements or continued to improve six months after the group treatment sessions had ended. But in this study, the mindfulness group showed more immediate improvement than did those in the positive psychology intervention, reporting less anxiety, depression, and insomnia. The researchers suggest that the greater effects associated with mindfulness techniques may be due to “the immediacy of physiologic relaxation responses incurred in mindfulness practice, including strengthened attention to bodily sensations, and less reliance on rumination or other automatic emotions.” In contrast, the positive psychology interventions were more cognitively focused and required more time and reflection. However, six months out, the positive psychology group saw greater improvements in life satisfaction and depression compared to the mindfulness group. Because both groups saw such significant improvement, future work will integrate both meditation and positive psychology techniques. “This study helps bring these mothers into the research limelight and justifies future efforts to promote their well-being and longterm caregiving abilities,” write the authors. Their work shows that a relatively short-term, easy-to-implement group intervention program can having a lasting impact on stress reduction, likely reducing downstream health problems and positively influencing family dynamics. Could this study have further implications? “This approach meets urgent calls to improve global mental health by training nonspecialists to address unmet mental health needs,” they write. Indeed, these techniques could be integrated into basic healthcare for all parents and caregivers—not just mothers and not just those whose children have disabilities.
The Way of Chuang Tzuu Thomas Merton © 1965 Abbey of Gethsemani New Directions Publishing Corp There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both. The method he hit [...]
The Way of Chuang Tzuu Thomas Merton © 1965 Abbey of Gethsemani New Directions Publishing Corp There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both. The method he hit [...]
When I walked in to teach my first mindfulness class at a charter high school in Oakland, no one seemed interested. One student was sleeping in his chair; a few kids were messing around in the classroom. Everyone looked at me like I was in the wrong place. I was nervous and not really sure what I would do. So I just started talking about stress. I asked students if they ever felt stressed, what they do when they are stressed, and asked each of them to share an experience about the last time they were stressed and how they dealt with it. That was the right move. After teaching more than 20 10-week introductory mindfulness courses at five different high schools over the past few years, I have learned one main lesson: You have to make mindfulness class relevant to the daily lives of students. Sports, relationships, parents, teachers, friends—if you can relate it to what the students are experiencing and they understand how it can actually be useful in their lives, you start to grab their attention. It took a few classes before we even started practicing mindfulness, because I had to first make a connection with the students—and then I had to explain why they might want to learn mindfulness. Here are eight more lessons I’ve learned. 1. Scale it down Classes that are smaller than 12 people are very different from class sizes of 12 or more, for the students in smaller groups are much more willing to share. Studies of the relationship between learning and classroom size show that students perceive smaller classes as being able to foster a greater sense of belonging and togetherness, tighter relations with teachers, and more classroom participation. Classes of 12 or more are much less intimate and a bit more like typical classroom teaching. But you can create more intimacy even with a bigger class. It helps to divide activities into small groups, or do more pair-sharing. Of all the factors listed here, I firmly believe that class size is the most important in terms of determining what you teach and how you teach it. If you can, keep the class small. 2. Foster intrinsic motivation If students are voluntarily taking the course, it means they actually want to be there. And this means that you have to do less work to convince them of why it is important; they are already bought in to a certain extent. However, most of the classes I taught were compulsory. The key for teaching compulsory classes is explaining to students why you are teaching them mindfulness. Take the time to explain how this is different from other classes—no grades, no homework, more interpersonal. Most of school and life for adolescents is extrinsically motivated. But one of the most significant differences between mindfulness classes and normal classes is that there is no external motivation to perform—the rewards are all intrinsic. Research shows that when teachers take the time to explain the meaningfulness of what they are teaching their students are often more intrinsically motivated. The result is happier, less anxious students who are more willing to learn. This is the environment you want to set for your mindfulness classes, even if they are compulsory. 3. Start with older students Freshman and first-semester sophomores have a lot of goofy energy and need more discipline. Doing shorter experiential exercises, like games and pair-sharing, with them is helpful. If younger students are in a larger group, then you have to move more quickly. But it is simply very difficult for the younger students to go as deep or to focus for as long. I prefer teaching mindfulness to students starting at the end of sophomore year—and then to juniors and seniors. There is not so much goofing around when you try to do the exercises, and the relational mindfulness practices go much deeper. 4. Meet at least once a week Meeting at least once a week is important. At some schools, we’ve needed to take two-week breaks, and I’ve found that it really disrupts the flow of the class. At one school, the schedule only permitted meeting once every ten school days. That was not working at all because there was no consistency, and it was more difficult to build up the necessary trust. The best format is to meet with the same students twice a week—that allows for you to build up a more steady relationship with the students. And it’s better to teach an introductory class over a condensed, shorter period of time. 5. Hold 9-12 classes I would say the absolute minimum classes would be nine (one intro, and eight full classes). However, I prefer 12 classes. The more I get to know the students, and the more conversation that we have, the deeper and more engaged the students get into the curriculum. 6. Teach in the middle of the morning The best time to teach mindfulness is mid-morning. Teaching first period can be tough because the students are not yet awake—and, in fact, studies show that teenagers at about age 14 learn less in the morning, thanks to shifts in their bodies. The afternoon can be tricky because students are exhausted, or they have a lot of pent up energy. If I teach right after lunch, I usually have the students lay down and rest for a few minutes before we start the class. If it is the last class of the day, I often spend more time doing exercises and almost always go outside. 7. Consider the advantages of outside and in-house teachers I have always taught as an outside teacher, someone who goes into a school specifically to teach mindfulness classes. This has a few advantages: It means I am new to the students and they do not have preconceived notions about who I am; I am just the mindfulness teacher; I do not have to transition from teaching chemistry to mindfulness; I have more energy to teach since I teach a limited number of classes. Being an in-house teacher also has advantages. You already know the students and hopefully have trust built up. The students will know your behavior—teenagers are very perceptive—so if you are teaching mindfulness to teens you have to embody this at school even when you are not teaching mindfulness classes. In fact, that is likely how they will learn the most and decide if they are even willing to take it seriously. 8. Remember that you are planting seeds Every time I finished a 10-week mindfulness class, I would wonder if it was helpful at all. Did the students get it? Are these 10 hours going to change their lives? Was I doing a good job? Sometimes there would be direct results, like when a student would tell me how practicing something from the class changed one of her relationships or made him less angry. But at the end of the day, I would remember: 10 hours is not much time. I am just planting seeds. If I taught students lacrosse or piano for 10 hours, I would not expect it to change their lives. But I would remember that some students can take away valuable life skills—and others, later in life, may remember something they used in class to pursue other contemplative practices or dive deeper into mindfulness. If you can open the eyes of a student to living a more whole, introspective life with an introductory mindfulness class, that is an incredibly powerful thing.
Let’s face it: seeing the words “lawyer” and “mindfulness” in the same sentence looks a little weird. This might be why lawyers suffer disproportionately high levels of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Lawyers are almost four times more likely to be depressed than non-lawyers, and twice as likely to be alcoholics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lawyers rank fourth in the professions with the most suicides. So maybe there is a role for mindfulness in the legal profession after all. According to Dr. Andy Benjamin of the University of Washington, the trouble starts in law school, where students encounter high workloads, stress, intense competition with their peers, and an emphasis on analysis and linear thinking that causes “loss of connection with feelings, personal morals, values, and sense of self.” In one study Benjamin conducted, 40 percent of law students were suffering from depression by the time they graduated. This is why I find the work of University of San Francisco School of Law Professor Rhonda Magee to be so inspiring and necessary. She is teaching the next generation of lawyers how to stay connected with who they are, how to forge relationships built on compassion and mutual respect, and how to skillfully and healthfully manage ever-present conflict situations—all before the students even graduate from law school. I talked with her over email about putting these ideas to work. Sara Tollefson: How did you first connect mindfulness and the law? Rhonda Magee: I was first inspired to connect mindfulness and the law about 20 years ago, when I was just starting out as a lawyer. I had some experience with contemplative practices from a variety of backgrounds, and it became obvious to me that relying on these practices seemed to make me more capable of handling the demands of my work as a litigator in a large law firm. Later, when I began teaching law, I realized that the practices and outlook that emerge from mindfulness might offer benefits not only to my students, but to those tasked with interpreting, applying and making law. So I started to look for others who were exploring the same ideas, and I began to work with lawyers and law professors (and even a judge or two) who had come to see the value of these practices as well. The coursework I’ve developed and the research and writing that I’ve done in the area have flowed from that. Having begun the work, the responses of my students, lawyers in practice, and others with whom I’ve worked keep me inspired to develop and deepen this work further. ST: And how do you define mindfulness? RM: In my work, I use the term “mindfulness” in two main ways. The first refers to a set of practices that focus one’s attention on the present moment with the intention of enhancing presence, and with attitudes that support kind-hearted openness to whatever arises. The second refers to the state of awareness, or more broadly, a way of being in the world that arises for many people and becomes more readily available over time as a result of engaging in such practices. ST: How does mindful lawyering benefit clients? How does it benefit lawyers? RM: Lawyers who practice mindfulness experience the same benefits that other practitioners report: everything from increased emotional self-awareness and self-regulation, to improved capacity to handle stress and increased concentration and psychological flexibility. Mindfulness practices increase lawyers’ capacity to be present and high-functioning, no matter how unpredictable or potentially distressing the situations in which they might find themselves. They are also better at assessing high-conflict or other challenging situations from multiple perspectives. Such outcomes make lawyers more skillful at handling stressful situations at work and in their personal lives, leading to increased well-being overall. In predictable ways, clients are also better served when their lawyers have a deeper set of resources for handling stress and dealing with conflict and uncertainty. Clients benefit from their lawyer’s greater sense of compassion and greater ability to communicate in ways that maintain a sense of concern and respect. ST: What about society at large? Do you think we’d see a social change as a result of mindful lawyering? RM: The benefits to society at large may be harder to measure but are every bit as real. Mindful lawyers are finding more creative ways to assist clients and to envision their law practice, often taking on the roles of peacemaker and/or healer in their communities. Mindful lawyers who serve as leaders, judges, or other lawmakers are interpreting and shaping law and public policy through the more expansive lenses shaped by their enhanced capacities for perspective-taking. In doing so, they are creating law and policy that looks and feels more like justice in the world. ST: What gives you hope that we might see more mindfulness in the law? RM: The fact that students are more and more exposed to mindfulness upon entry into law schools, and that the culture generally is becoming more accepting of these practices makes me quite hopeful that we will see more mindfulness in the law over time. More and more, law professors are interested in exploring these practices, and are working together to support one another in developing approaches to incorporating these practices into our methods for teaching and learning. I’m presently working with Charlie Halpern of Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley and several others to develop a National Collaborative for Mindfulness and Law. We’ll join with folks like Richard Reuben, who has engaged in an effort to study the effects of mindfulness on his students at the University of Missouri, and Scott Rogers, who has been examining how these practices affect law students at Miami University, to share what we’re learning and develop model curriculum. I’m also researching and writing about a systematic approach to incorporating these practices into legal education. At the same time, with the increasing support of leaders in local and regional legal communities, lawyers across the country, from Seattle to Minneapolis, from Phoenix to New York, are offering programs that support mindfulness as a component of ongoing professional development. As more law schools, practicing lawyers, and leaders within the various state bars get involved, there will be more programs for continuing legal education and continuing judicial education for lawyers and judges, and the movement along all fronts will continue to flourish. ST: What are three things that a lawyer (or other professional) could do right now to bring more mindfulness into their work? RM: Here are some practices to consider exploring. 1. Mindfulness reset: Select a set time for a five- to ten-minute “Mindfulness Reset” each day. It might be the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk as you transition from your commute. It might be the way you settle in back in after your lunch break. For those five minutes, allow your mind to settle on the sensations of breathing in and out, and to let whatever other thoughts, sensations or emotions arise, and without attaching to them, allowing them to float by as you would a row of clouds across a bright blue sky. You can always investigate or follow-up on what arises later, but for the period of your Mindfulness Reset, just let these objects of awareness simply arise and float away. 2. Mindful gratitude practice: Another suggestion is to incorporate a mindful gratitude practice into your daily routine, by ending each evening by reflecting on three things that you experienced that day for which you are grateful. Call each pleasant event or experience to mind and allow the associated thoughts, sensations, and emotions to expand into your awareness and fill you with the sensations of mindful gratitude for a minute (not long enough to start going into story!), before going on to the next thing. 3. Find a mindfulness buddy: Finally, it’s extremely helpful to experience the support of at least one other person who shares your interest in bringing mindfulness to work. You might be surprised to find a co-worker who is willing to support creating space for or sharing ideas for bringing mindfulness into your workspace, or even sitting quietly together for a few minutes a few times a week. If not available in your office or workplace, seek out social support using technology. Believe it or not, you may find that having a friend with whom to sit quietly on the phone or on Skype—perhaps as a prelude to a mindful exchange of reflections on what’s up for each of you (without trying to fix one another in those moments!)—is just the extra support you need to keep your mindfulness habit alive and thriving. To be successful in bringing more mindfulness into your work, I’d also suggest that you continually strengthen your intention and commitment to do so. Remind yourself why you believe this is important, and make a genuine commitment to cultivate your practice. You might find a single reminder of your intention to create space for mindfulness, something that might be discreetly brought into the office, such as a rock engraved with the word “Gratitude” or “Breathe,” a book about mindfulness that you might place on a shelf at eye-level, anything that works for you. Select a place for your reminder in your workspace, and allow it to serve as a visible and tangible reminder of your commitment to yourself to be mindful as you work. And of course, this is just scratching the surface! Those who are interested in finding out more should consider reading and studying about the mindfulness traditions that have given rise to our contemporary appreciation of these practices. There is much depth there. My suggestions are merely a door into a profound set of teachings and learning.
Every day we hear stories in the news of how our schools are failing kids. The disparity between students who achieve high test scores and those who don’t mirrors the division in our society between the “haves” and “have nots.” Children who for one reason or another can’t sit still, focus, or get along with their peers continue to fall behind academically, while concerned parents and teachers feel overwhelmed, not knowing how to intervene effectively. In his new book, The Way of Mindful Education, Daniel Rechtschaffen argues that there is something simple that can be done to help change this: teaching mindfulness in schools. Rechtschaffen, a leading mindfulness educator and founder of the Mindful Education Institute, believes that mindfulness training can increase social-emotional skills—like attention, empathy, forgiveness, and impulse control—that help improve the classroom social climate and increase academic performance for kids. Research on mindfulness has proliferated in recent decades, and the results are promising, according to Rechtschaffen. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to decrease pain, stress, depression, and anxiety, while increasing happiness and improving interpersonal relationships…at least in adults. Research with children, though more preliminary, suggests that teaching kids mindfulness skills may help decrease symptoms of ADHD, depression, anxiety, and hostility, while increasing self-esteem and sleep quality, all of which has an impact on learning. Rechtschaffen’s book is primarily a ”how-to” for creating a mindful classroom. He suggests ways that teachers can become more mindful themselves so that they can role model the type of attention, self-control, and consideration they wish to see in their students. He also provides guidance for how mindfulness can be incorporated into classrooms of different age groups and needs, along with examples of mindfulness curricula that teachers can use in various settings. However, Rechtschaffen warns against teachers using mindfulness exercises in their classrooms without first developing their own practice. “We often leap forward, wanting to help our kids relax, forgetting to notice how anxious and in need of relaxation we are,” he writes. “A teacher would never try to lead a math lesson if she didn’t know the multiplication tables.” Similarly, teachers trying to teach mindfulness won’t get far with their students if they first don’t model good emotional regulation and sensitivity toward their students’ needs, he argues. In fact, Rechtschaffen claims that teachers may need mindfulness training more than their students. “Year after year I have watched schoolteachers entering the classroom on the first day as hopeful and inspired as a child taking its first steps” he writes—only to give up soon after. Mindfulness can help teachers feel reinvigorated and provide benefits to students indirectly, since teachers who are more mindful may be more attuned, compassionate, and flexible with their students. Still, a large part of his book is devoted to providing sample mindfulness lessons that can be used in classrooms or youth programs. The lessons progress though four areas of mindfulness: Embodiment: learning how to feel comfortable and relaxed in one’s body; Focused attention: attention to sensory phenomena, such as one’s breath or sounds in the environment; Heartfeltness: learning to feel one’s emotions and to regulate more difficult ones; Interconnection: bringing compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude into one’s life. For each area, there are suggested exercises for developing these skills in kids, along with reasons why it is important to learn. Though some educators may feel that it’s too much to add on to their already overcrowded lesson plans, Rechtschaffen suggests that teaching mindfulness saves time and aids students in the long run. “When students don’t know how to pay attention or regulate their emotions, they easily fall into distracting behavior, often out of sheer frustration,” he writes. “As teachers, if we can offer these students the inner resources that they are lacking rather than penalizing them over and over, they have a much greater chance of thriving.” And, ultimately, teachers save time, because they don’t have to continually work to bring distracted, disruptive kids back into the learning fold. Is there any reason not to integrate mindfulness into schools? Rechtshaffen doesn’t seem to think so, even though the research on mindfulness in children is still in its infancy, suggesting that its universal application in schools could be a bit premature. Even so, if current research trends continue, we may all be clamoring to get mindfulness into our schools.