Thecompaniesand foundations largely responsible for introducing mindfulness programing into schoolstoutits psychological benefits — such as reduced stress and increased attention. And they say the evidence for mindfulness is based on decades of scientific research.
But research quality is not the same as quantity. And considering that more and more US schools are embracing it, I decided to take a look through the literature: What does the science actually say about mindfulness in kids?
I read more than a dozen studies — including systematic meta-reviews, which account for thousands of other papers — analyzing the best available research on mindfulness (in both students and adults) and talked to researchers and advocates involved in the work. I asked these experts what questions and concerns parents should have when they hear mindfulness is coming to their schools. (Scroll down for those questions.)
The short of it: The relatively few studies we have on mindfulness in schools suggest a generally positive effect ondecreasing anxiety and increasing cognitive performance. But the hype around mindfulness also seems to be outpacing the science,especiallywhen it comes to teaching these practices to children.
When Rob Stephens, a 22-year-old senior, walks into the Mindfulness Room at Carnegie Mellon University, he leaves his homework and stress at the door. He is surrounded by a waterfall wall, plants, lots of natural light and an open space with cushions on the floor — a 24/7 space is set aside for meditation or just peaceful thinking.
“I definitely think it helps to de-stress,” said Stephens, a global studies major from Atlanta, Georgia. “It’s the time I spend making sure I am OK.” Rob Stephens visits the Mindfulness Room at Carnegie Mellon, where he can meditate, bond with dogs or just chill out. Sara Jahanian
Mindfulness is as popular at colleges nationwide as it is now at CMU. “It’s someone giving themselves uninterrupted mental space,” said Stephens. “Some focus on themselves or others. It’s a time to stop and refocus your purpose.” Studies show the practice may be an antidote to the high levels of stress and depression seen on college campuses.
The American College Health Association found in a 2015 study that more than 85 percent said they “felt overwhelmed” by the demands of college. And a third of all student said stress had a negative effect on their overall academic performance.
Recently, Stephens enjoyed playing with therapy dogs in the mindfulness room. Students bond with a dog in Carnegie Mellon’s Mindfulness Room. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University
Some use the time to take a nap, “to reset their brain,” he said. For others it might include meditation, or focused time at the gym or in yoga. “People can do a lot of mindful things,” Stephens said. “For me, it was time to be with another creature. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a [yoga] child’s pose.”