How pupils can benefit from meditation
The candle is lit, the lights are dimmed. As another busy school day begins, pupils in year 7 close their eyes, focus on their breathing and let their thoughts drift away….
This term, St Benedict’s is introducing 20 minutes of meditation each week for all pupils in year 7, and this will eventually be offered to other year groups. Guided by form tutors, meditation will provide our young people with a valuable oasis of stillness and silence in school life, helping them to become more self-aware, enhancing their sense of human wholeness in the harmony of body, mind and spirit.
In the Junior School, a mindfulness session is offered each week after school for children in years 3 to 6, so that they can learn about the value of living in the now. It is hoped that learning to focus on how they are feeling will help them throughout their lives.
Children and young people are constantly being bombarded with information.... As a result they spend most of their energy in their ‘thinking’ brain, losing connection with how they actually feel."
The motivation for this initiative is twofold. Firstly, we want to support pupils’ mental health, by encouraging them to recognise how they are, emotionally. Secondly, reflection and prayer are very much part of our ethos, allowing us to think about our uniqueness; our interests and talents, relationships; the many blessings in our lives, and our place in the world.
So what do pupils think about meditation? Their feedback has been very positive: one pupil wrote, “I find meditation relaxing and calming. It helps the brain relax ready for the next lesson which also makes me focus more in my work.” Another said: “I think meditation is a nice time in the morning, for me to forget about my worries and rid me from all my stress. I really enjoy it and I think it’s really helpful.” And another remarked: “Meditation is very good and calming. It is also different and special. I like doing meditation every week.”
In making regular space for meditation, we hope to help our young people to recharge, mentally; to be aware of their feelings and practise the vital skill of switching off the constant noise of 21st century life."
We have introduced meditation to some of the sixth form students in recent years, too, and their response has also been positive. Young people really do welcome the chance to still down and relax, at a profound level.
It’s hardly surprising. In today’s society children and young people are constantly being bombarded with information: in lessons, on computers in school; on smart phones, electronic games and social media in their own time. As a result they spend most of their energy in their ‘thinking’ brain, losing connection with how they actually feel.
Most of us have fallen prey to sensory overload: just look around a train carriage, and note how many people are on their screens – catching up with email, playing Candy Crush, skimming through social media. We are almost constantly informed, entertained, petitioned, pestered and diverted.
Overstimulation creates excess dopamine in the brain – the neurotransmitter tied to the reward and pleasure centres of the brain. While this makes us feel good, the more we have, the more we need. Common symptoms of overstimulation are the inability to sit still, racing thoughts, headaches, eye strain, insomnia and even depression.
Being aware of screen time is the most obvious way to overcome this overstimulation. Avoiding screens isn’t easy but consciously allocating a period of time each day in which to give your senses a rest is beneficial for balancing your mind and body.
But meditation has huge benefits. If it becomes a regular practice, meditation can produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates our mood and alleviates anxiety. Best of all, it repairs and resets dopamine receptor sites in the brain, soothing our overworked senses.
Medical evidence shows that meditation can lower blood pressure, increase well-being and focus and enhance the immune system while reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Research has also highlighted outcomes of increased self-knowledge and self-acceptance through meditation.
In making regular space for meditation, we hope to help our young people to recharge, mentally; to be aware of their feelings and practise the vital skill of switching off the constant noise of 21st century life.
(Melissa Comins: Economics and Business Studies teacher at St Benedict’s, and member of the Chaplaincy team.)