The popularity of mindfulness practice in the West started with Jon Kabat-Zinn, and his development of the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.
He recruited chronically ill patients not responding well to traditional treatments to participate in his newly formed program, now known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
Since then, substantial research has demonstrated how mindfulness-based interventions improve mental and physical health. Different definitions of mindfulness have developed, depending on the dimension of the experience included.
Simply put, mindfulness can be defined as paying attention to what is happening in a present moment in a way that allows us to respond rather than react; paying attention in a heartful and accepting way.
Described within an educational context (Mindful Schools Curriculum), mindfulness addresses three attentional skills working together:
- Concentration: The ability to focus on what you want, when you want.
- Clarity: Increased awareness of internal sensory events (thoughts, emotions, sensations) and external behaviours.
- Equanimity: Non-reactivity. The ability to let sensory experience (thoughts, emotions, sensations) come and go without push or pull.
These skills are applied in the classroom to enhance positive mind states and overall well-being, and support students in meeting inner and outer challenging experiences.
As Mindful Schools reports, a growing body of research in neuroscience has shown many benefits of mindfulness:
- Better focus and concentration
- Increased sense of calm
- Decreased stress and anxiety
- Enhanced health
- Improved impulse control
- Increased self-awareness
- Skilful responses to difficult emotions
- Increased empathy and understanding of others
- Development of natural conflict resolution skills
Here are comments on benefits of mindfulness by Laurie Grossman, cofounder of Mindful Schools and director of program development at Inner Explorer:
“After more than 40 years of experience, I believe mindfulness should be taught daily in every classroom, from preschool to grad school. When kids learn mindfulness, they learn to pay attention.
Also, practicing mindfulness promotes impulse control because we create space between how we feel and what we do about it. When we realize we are angry, instead of acting on that anger, we recognize it and create space to make wise choices. This is the basis for good classroom management.
The benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction have been researched and proven for decades; teachers and students benefit equally from less stress in the classroom and in their lives. Finally, because mindfulness makes us aware of our own emotions and those of others, students and teachers become more empathetic.
This creates more kindness and compassion, resulting in stronger communities. Our hearts send many more messages to our brains than vice versa, and taking time to pause, makes it much easier to pay attention to our hearts.”