Information about the benefits of training adults and children in mindfulness and compassion, with links to research.
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I'd like to mention something about my own perspective on this before jumping right into the research links.
I think the greatest benefits of practicing awareness and compassion are spiritual and societal. While I'm a firm believer in mindfulness, I want to caution against over-stating and over-emphasizing the scientific evidence when mental states and personal experiences are so hard to measure.
Also please keep in mind that there's a wide range of perspectives on what should and shouldn't be labeled 'mindfulness'. I've talked to a couple of people who insist it means only specific types of breath-based practices, which is fascinating since that isn't the main emphasis of most of the teachers I've interviewed. Meanwhile, I know Christians who are upset that there's so much emphasis on traditional Buddhist teachings, and Buddhists who object to the ways traditional teachings have been secularized.
I recommend this interview from Tricycle.org in which Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, and Richard Davidson discuss the history of the mindfulness meditation movement and where they expect it to go from here.
Scroll down for
- an explanation of how mindfulness-based brain training produces permanent structural changes in the brain;
- links with more information about how mindfulness benefits adults;
- information about mindfulness and compassion for educators;
- information about how mindfulness benefits kids; and
- links to brief videos about school-based mindfulness programs.
According to Dr. Kirk Strosahl and Dr. Patricia Robinson, "research indicates that brain training involving mindfulness practices can strengthen areas of the brain responsible for attention, emotional control, and problem solving… There is even emerging evidence that mindfulness-based brain training produces permanent structural changes in the brain.”
Specifically, mindfulness training can help with:
Mindfulness and Compassion for Educators
Mindfulness for Kids
- Observing: Our typical reaction to stress is bottom-up attention, which "originates in the core structures of the limbic system and evolved to help us scan for immediate threats to our survival." Mindfulness training allows us to shift to top-down attention, which "originates in the insula, a higher-order brain structure, [and] allows you to shift your attention inward so you can monitor and regulate how your body is reacting to stress," and helps to "visualize and implement solutions to stress-producing problems."
- Detachment: "If you get absorbed in a negative appraisal, like telling yourself that feeling angry isn't okay because you should be positive... the neural circuitry responsible for exerting a calming influence isn't being activated. This leaves the limbic system in a state of constant arousal... Acceptance of emotion without the need to react... triggers PNS [parasympathetic nervous system] activation, which in turn reduces activity of the arousal centers of the limbic system."
- Self-Compassion: "Compassion-based mindfulness practice increases the density of gray matter in certain areas of the brain... involved in learning and memory processes, as well as emotional control, self-awareness, and perspective taking... It also appears that the experience of compassion for oneself and others strengthens neural circuitry responsible for regulating the activity of the amygdala, the brain center involved in producing negative emotions."
Dr. Kirk Strosahl and Dr. Patricia Robinson, In This Moment: Five Steps to Transcending Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroscience
The following links have more information about the benefits of practicing mindfulness:
- What is Mindfulness? from Brandi Lust of Learning Lab Consulting, explains what mindfulness is and how it works, and gives a brief overview of the benefits. Brandi Lust is the author of Myths of Being Human: Four Paths to Connect With What Matters,
- Mindfulness Research Monthly is a newsletter from the American Mindfulness Research Association with the latest research in the field.
- Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, and Empathy Among Health Care Professionals by Kelley Raab reviews research on mindfulness-based stress reduction programs for health care professionals.
Mindfulness and Compassion for Educators
"When the adult in the room is transformed, the classroom climate changes, too. This is the ultimate goal: not to introduce mindfulness as a strategy-based intervention, but instead to change the overall climate, tone, and quality of interaction so that it is more conducive to the health and wholeness of teacher and student."
Brandi Lust of Learning Lab Consulting, in a guest post on "Mindfulness in Schools: Research-Based Support for Teacher Training." Brandi Lust is the author of Myths of Being Human: Four Paths to Connect With What Matters.
The following links have more information about the benefits of mindfulness and compassion for educators:
- Mindfulness Training Can Help Reduce Teacher Stress and Burnout by Jill Ladwig at University of Wisconsin News
- When Teachers Get Mindfulness Training, Students Win, by Jill Suttle at Greater Good
Mindfulness for Kids
"Mindfulness as a skill can help youth learn to be less impulsive and more self-regulated, and to develop a stronger ability to choose in their lives. The idea is that we’re teaching young people to gain greater autonomy and choicefulness."
Dr. Sam Himelstein, in an interview on "How Mindfulness Helps Teens and the Adults Who Care about Them"
The following links have more information about how kids can benefit from mindfulness training:
- Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People, by Professor Katherine Weare for .b The Mindfulness in Schools Project and The University of Exeter Mood Disorders Centre
- Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools, by Jill Suttle at Greater Good
- Mindfulness Practice Helps Suicide Prevention Efforts by Lailani Upham at Char-Koosta News
- Why Teaching Mindfulness Benefits Students’ Learning by Patricia C. Broderick at Mind/Shift
Here are several brief (5-10 minute) videos about school-based mindfulness programs:
- "Aliza and the Mind Jar" featuring yoga and mindfulness instructor Kelli Love
- The Inner Resilience Program Chatsworth Elementary School
- Kids Explain the Benefits of Mindfulness in Their Own Words
- Learning to Breathe: A Mindfulness Curriculum
- Meditation Helps Lower Truancy and Suspensions
- Mindful Schools In-Class Instruction
- Mindfulness and Education: interview with Daniel Rechtschaffen of Mindful Schools
- Mindfulness in Action by Sherry-Lynne Kirschner
- A School Transformed: King-Chavez Elementary School
- Teens describe the benefits of Peace in Schools' for-credit mindfulness classes
- To Introduce Yoga and Mindfulness in the Classroom, This District Starts With Its Teachers