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The Importance Of Mindfulness In Education: Mindful Or Mind-fooled

If salvation and help are to come, it is through the child; for the child is the constructor of man." If we consider physical life on one side and mental life on the other, we break the cycle of relation, and the actions of man remain separated from the brain." Maria Montessori

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Thinking of education, one cannot help admiring the cogent approach of Maria Montessori in establishing the fact that educating a child means educating a whole nation. She was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. She revolutionised education. Her ideas and conclusions had an impact on pedagogy all around the world. Montessori was certain that education was a key factor in changing the world. She thought that this was the area to give the history of humanity a better direction.

Someone told me once, " if I had  meditation in my life as a child, my adulthood would have been more sorted." Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training methodologies. Mindfulness practices are becoming more common within educational institutions all around the world, including Elementary and Secondary schools. This has been referred to as part of a 'contemplative turn' in education that has emerged since the turn of the millennium. The application of mindfulness in schools is aimed at calming and relaxation of students as well as educators to build compassion and empathy for others. An additional benefit of Mindfulness in education is to reduce anxiety and stress in students. The National Institute of Mental Health, recently published that 1 out of 4 kids, meets the criteria for a serious mental health issue, ADHD, behavioural issues, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, to name a few. The findings of Lokniti CSDS youth survey indicate that around 4 out of 10 youngsters who are currently studying felt regular or occasional bouts of stress and depression, and at least 6% of them felt like committing suicide at least once in the last couple of years. This is disturbing indeed. Apart from the obvious deficiencies in the methods of our education system and faults inherent in our educational attitudes, we cannot continue to ignore the silent changes that are going on in the very structure of the human mind. We must have a reasonable approach to the problem, which is more psychophysiological. Researchers conclude that this needs a shift, from treatment to early intervention and prevention.

Based on a broad meta-analytical review, scholars argue that the application of mindfulness practice enhances the goals of education in the 21st century, which include adapting to a rapidly changing world and being a caring and committed citizen. Within educational systems, the application of mindfulness practices shows an improvement of students' attention and focus, emotional regulation, creativity, and problem-solving skills. While mindfulness is an age-old practice, the scientific journey and research on its effectiveness in education have about thirty years of cogent approach. Adult samples show long-term benefits on overall well being and brain functioning. However, the brains of young people are substantially more responsive to being changed, due to the experience of the phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, compared to an adult brain. This suggests, the long-term effects of mindfulness being more beneficial for students than adults. Bite-size mindfulness and short kid-friendly practices, when done consistently, can be a powerful tool to help our children lead healthier and happier lives. They are simple to do consume very little time and cost nothing, as we all know, breathing is free.

We know schools are the number one providers for support systems for a child, and as Yogi Krishnamurti puts it beautifully," the highest function of education is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable of dealing with life as a whole." Much of education today, is fuelled by competition, comparison, like striving for some future accolade. In a research conducted by Harvard, wherein they tracked more than a thousand people, from birth till age 32, looking for what made some successful than others. What were the common traits that made some successful? It was not their race, culture, what language they spoke, what neighbourhood they grew in or how much money their parents had, how well they performed in standardised tests or even their IQ.  It was self-control. It doesn't matter if we give our children the shiniest and latest gadgets and the best teachers or professors, if they cannot focus and pay attention, it would be nothing but futzing around. We often tell our kids to pay attention, but have we taught them "HOW".Mindfulness exercises are designed to train our brain to have focus, attention and emotional regulation. The ability to focus on one thing at one time for an extended period of time is a skill which requires practice. Mindfulness is not only about focus and paying attention, but also being able to feel emotions, like pain, fear, anger, frustration and still, not react to them, rather respond to them. Mindfulness gives a space between our emotions and our responses so that we can actually think first. It helps us to be reflective and not reactive. Mindful listening is one of the most important parts of any relationship, mindful eating would determine the physical health of any human being and mindful breathing would allow one to find calm, peace and focus amidst the chaos. Mindfulness exercises also teach children what are called, socio-emotional skills, like self-regulation, which is managing one's behaviour and emotions. Practising social relationships skills like empathising, showing compassion, kindness and respect for their fellow beings. This one simple tool can literally change the trajectory of a child's life.

The three important components for designing mindfulness programs in school should be short, child-friendly and consistent practice.

Nobody has an extra time, parents are going every which way to get the best for their children, teachers and schools are overworked with syllabus and deadlines. Totally understandable, but we all know that it takes just a a few minutes for conscious slow deep breaths to help us feel calmer. The theory behind this being, that, slow and controlled breathing sends signals to the brain that everything is fine and calms our nervous system, which in return slows down the brains response to stress. This is not an enrichment programme or an extracurricular activity to choose from. It is a simple approach and way of life.

Mindfulness is not about linen clad and detached from life sort of an attitude. These are exercises designed for every age group, which can be incorporated and done anywhere. In order for these practices to work, the children, most importantly have to like and enjoy them. So they have to be built around a concept that speaks to them.

And finally, like any other skill, consistent practice is the key to the effectiveness of mindful exercises. The act of paying attention over and over again to our breath coming in and out of our bodies is a skill which needs practice.

Imagine self-regulation being taught alongside academics, imagine a whole generation of children who are self-aware enough to make thoughtful choices. We cannot wait for the education system to change, so we take baby steps, because our children need it NOW. We start with the children in our lives. Families attaching this practice of being mindful in their everyday life, for schools it would mean fitting in a non-negotiable time, same time every day, where everybody knows what to expect.

While I write, I cannot stop wondering, if we know the benefits of mindfulness and its importance, why aren't we teaching it to our children?  If you believe like I do, that the path to a better world for our children lies in the practice of mindfulness, then ask teachers, parents, administrators, policymakers to bring in experts in the lives of our little ones. The change will happen with choice and not by chance.  Let's become mindful and not fooled by our mind. If we manage to change even one mind at a time and be responsible for it, the world would become exactly what we all are dreaming it to be.

"And It Starts With Yours"

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Suman Virdi Batra

Suman Virdi Batra is a registered children’s yoga teacher and mindfulness coach.She also trains teachers for the program "yoga in you school", which includes introduction of three minute yoga breaks in the classroom. Having a master degree in communication studies, she has a vision of creating a model, which builds a culture where positive behavior and developing a true self is taught

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