Mindfulness, the practice of cultivating focused awareness on the present moment, has been shown to have a number of benefits, including emotional stability and improved sleep. Now, some schools have started incorporating mindfulness programs into their curriculums, teaching kids as young as five years old how to use body scans, mindful breathing and attention to their thoughts and emotions to become more focused. According to a recent study, such programs could be successful in leading to reduced depression-related symptoms among adolescents.
Researchers at the University of Leuven study looked at the experiences of 408 students from five different schools in Flanders, Belgium, all between the ages of 13 and 20. At the beginning of the study, the students answered a questionnaire designed to reveal symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, and were then divided into a test group and a control group. The test group followed an in-class mindfulness training program which consisted of instruction in mindful breathing and body scan exercises, sharing experiences of these exercises, group reflection, inspiring stories, and education on stress, depression and self-care. The control group, meanwhile, received no training. All students filled out the questionnaire after the training, and again six months later.
The researchers found that students who adhered to the mindfulness program exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program. Whereas before the training, 21 percent of the test group and 24 percent of the control group reported symptoms of depression, after the mindfulness training, 15 percent of the test group versus 27 percent of the control group had depression symptoms. Six months later, 16 percent of the test group and 31 percent of the control group showed signs of depression.
The study is the first to examine the effects of mindfulness on depression among adolescents in a classroom setting, but previous research has found that mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of depression and chronic pain in adult patients. Brown University research published last month showed that mindfulness practitioners are able to gain greater control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms, which help regulate the brain's processing and filtering of emotions, including pain and depressive memories.
And many schools are starting to catch on to the benefits of stress-reduction training like mindfulness: More American high schools than ever before are implementing yoga classes, mindfulness meditation training, wellness centers and designated nap times to help students cope with anxiety and academic pressure.
"Mindfulness is a discipline that can help us tap into our students' potential," UK school principal Mark Keary told The Guardian.
This month, the first international conference for mindfulness in schools will take place in London. And in the U.S., the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program, supported by Congressman Tim Ryan, is bringing mindfulness training into schools as a way to boost students' emotional resilience and help improve academic performance.
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In Smithtown, New York, gym class isn't an occasion for dread: Instead, it's an opportunity to de-stress. HuffPost Teen reader <a href="https://twitter.com/wengel96/status/308400594236891136">WIll Eng </a>says that his high school offers students four different physical education options: Team or Lifetime Sports, Project Adventure, Personal Fitness and Yoga.
Pets can be a highly effective <a href="http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/pets-happiness1.htm">form of stress relief</a>, and high schools are now catching on to the benefits of canine therapy for overworked students. At <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/31/from-pets-to-recess-high-_n_2593553.html">Prospect High School </a>in Mount Prospect, Illinois, the school counseling team includes Junie, an 18-month-old Golden Retriever that acts as a "therapy dog" to comfort and soothe the student body.
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Need a little boost to make it through your afternoon classes? A short power nap might be a <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/health/your_health&id=8908727">better answer </a>then reaching for a candy bar or that second coffee. Schools like <a href="http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2006/09/19/xtr_97182.shtml">Lakeside High School</a> in Georgia are helping students boost their energy and cognitive functioning by 30-minute study halls and optional nap times.
U.S. Congressman TIm Ryan has expressed his<a href="http://www.eomega.org/learning-paths/body-mind-amp-spirit-mindfulness-leadership-amp-work-education/bringing-mindfulness"> support </a>for including mindfulness programs in public school curriculums. Some schools are beginning to teach students mindfulness through the <a href="http://www.eomega.org/learning-paths/body-mind-amp-spirit-mindfulness-leadership-amp-work-education/bringing-mindfulness">Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program</a>, which focuses on emotional resilience programs that can help improve academic performance.
Last year, an old language lab at Belfast Area High School in Maine was converted into a <a href="http://bangordailynews.com/2012/04/12/news/midcoast/stressed-out-belfast-area-high-school-students-teachers-to-have-a-wellness-room/">Wellness Room</a> for the entire school community -- teachers, students and administrators -- to enjoy. Local alternative health care practitioners offer short massage sessions, Reiki, acupuncture, chiropractic care and more to ease stress.
To recognize the de-stressing value of relaxation, social time and play, some schools are instituting <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/31/from-pets-to-recess-high-_n_2593553.html">20-minute breaks</a> (recess, anyone?) to give their students more down time between classes. At Chanhassen High School in Minnesota, students are able to enjoy these daily breaks, as well as homework-free nights scattered throughout the year to help take the pressure off of potentially overwhelming workloads.
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