You may have heard the word ‘mindfulness’ before but not be too sure what it actually means. As a term it has become increasingly popular over recent years and is defined in the dictionary as a “quality or state of being conscious or aware of something." Based on Buddhist philosophies, mindfulness is all about being consciously ‘in the moment.’ It uses meditative techniques to relax you and focus on yourself, and has become a popular way of reducing stress, anxiety and depression. With the Wellcome Trust launching a research programme last year to see if mindfulness in schools could improve the mental health of teenagers, and the NHS listing it as one of their five steps to mental wellbeing, some are starting to wonder if mindfulness might also be good for your studies?
Mindfulness techniques include relaxing and counting your breaths for a number of minutes, up to ten and then back down again in a repeated cycle. The idea here is to focus on your breathing, allowing your mind to escape from the distractions and worries of everyday life.
This breathing technique is one of several mindfulness exercises but is the one used by a group of students from Connaught School for Girls in Leytonstone, East London, who decided to see if it would help their studies.
The decision to test the theory was based upon a recommendation from the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group back in October last year. They said that the Department of Education should choose three schools to "pioneer mindfulness teaching and disseminate best practice."
Meanwhile, political author and former head of Wellington College, Anthony Seldon called for daily "stillness sessions" in schools. He argued that a decline in traditional religious assemblies has left pupils with little space for reflection during the school day.
Ten students used mindfulness techniques for five minutes per day for two weeks while a control group of ten others didn’t. They then tested the theory that mindfulness can help improve concentration and reduce stress. The results were tested by the students being asked to memorise sequences of flashing lights at the beginning and the end of the experiment. The results showed that the mindfulness students successfully completed the test 2.15 times better than when they first tried, while the non-mindful group only improved by 0.69 times.
While interesting these results are, of course, far from conclusive and there may have been other factors at play to create this improvement – including, some argue, a kind of placebo effect where the ‘mindful’ students improved simply because they expected to.
The teenagers themselves generally said they felt their concentration had improved through using the mindfulness exercises but some did note that they could be left feeling tired by the relaxation techniques associated by mindfulness. Of course, it could easily be argued (and studies have shown) that teenagers struggle to get enough sleep – which could explain the real reason for the tiredness.
While there is still room for argument, it seems that mindfulness may offer something positive for students, whether improving concentration or even just lowering stress and helping to relax later in the day.
Some of those involved in the test at the Connaught School for Girls certainly seemed impressed and are asking their headteacher if mindfulness meditation could become part of the wider school day, while the teachers involved are hoping to start a school ‘meditation club.’
However, don’t expect mindfulness to become part of the national school curriculum just yet, as the Department for Education said they had no plans to introduce compulsory mindfulness in schools, instead saying it was at the discretion of each headteacher to decide upon their own policies around these issues.
Still, it’s all food for thought… do you think mindfulness or meditation in school is a good thing? Perhaps you could use the time during a free period at sixth form to try out some mindfulness exercises? Let us know what you think!