The Meditation Hype
“Mindfulness” and “meditation” seem to be the latest buzzwords in today’s health-conscious society. With rising concerns about mental illness, these two words have become much more prominent.
Previously restricted to the domain of Buddhist monks and grizzled hippies, mobile apps such as Headspace and Buddhify have made meditation accessible to all.
Doctors around the country are now regularly recommending courses in mindfulness to combat a range of mental ills. Such courses, with strong elements of mindfulness, have even become common for teachers and children.
Illustrious companies and A-list celebrities are also getting in on the act. Just a decade or so ago, who would have thought companies would be employing a ‘head of mindfulness’ like Google’s Chade-Meng Tan?
Although mindfulness appears everywhere at the moment, the plethora of programmes and advocates don’t always make it easy for the person on the street to make informed decisions about why they should meditate and furthermore why they should consider it for their children.
As a firm advocate of meditation, for both adults and children, I am keen to ensure that the whirlwind of hype does not make people view meditation as just another fad.
Meditation For Adults And Children
To provide some clarity, it should be said that meditation, as a tool to promote wellbeing, is not new.
The work of Jon Kabat-Zinn has been adopted by a large number of adults to combat poor mental health and physical ailments for the past thirty years. As well as this, The Inner Kids Foundation, developed by Susan Kaiser Greenland, has promoted mindfulness for children since 2001.
This has led to mindfulness programmes being trialled throughout schools across America and the UK – mainly in the last eight years. The work of Richard Burnett and organisations like Relax Kids are increasingly providing support to incorporate mindfulness into British schools.
As a result of the work that has been done over the last decade, the body of research about the impact of mindfulness on children has grown.
Studies range from self-reported experiments conducted with small groups, to broader studies that consider actual neuroscientific data and the results so far are promising.
As with any research, approaching the results with a sense of caution is always wise. In fact, a sense of caution may well be needed with regard to mindfulness as a whole.
Too much hyperbole can make people, both adults and children, believe that adopting a mindfulness practice is immediately life changing. This can often result in discouragement and lead to some people quitting before they realise how transformational the practice can actually be.
I would also add that it may not suit everyone. Human beings are thankfully diverse and one approach is unlikely to work for everyone.
Mindfulness should not be the only thing you do to promote your own, or your child’s, wellbeing. Mindfulness alone, with a poor diet and little exercise is unlikely to have the desired impact – an integrated approach is needed.
Meditation For Children
So, returning to the research, what does it say about the impact of mindfulness/meditation on children?
One outcome suggests that children are better able to regulate their emotions and behaviour if they meditate.
There are also indications that children are less impulsive, better positioned to make decisions and also suffer less from anxiety.
Some research also suggests that after following a programme of meditation, children are more aware of their feelings, find it easier to let uncomfortable feelings go and can retain an equilibrium, even when faced with situations they find challenging.
Where programmes have focused on a sense of gratitude, research suggests that children develop a greater appreciation of the positive elements of their environment and not just the negative elements.
We don’t know the physiological impact that meditation/mindfulness has on children’s brains yet; however, neuroscience does seems to be catching up. Although most scientific experiments have been conducted with adults, there is an indication that practising meditation can stimulate parts of the brain linked to positive emotions and lessen activity in parts of the brain associated with addictive behaviours.
While research continues to expand, it is worth noting that there are many people that practice meditation, who do not consider themselves to have a particular problem with their mental health but rather they practise meditation because of the benefits it has on their lives, the way they view their thoughts and their relationship with the world.
Indeed from my own perspective I firmly believe that meditation is not just for children who may have an issue or mental illness of some kind.
Meditation can provide children with skills they can develop and cultivate for a lifetime, that focus on maintaining positive mental health and a sense of peace and gratitude, that will not only be beneficial to them but also to those around them.
Mindfulness/meditation can provide a place of peace and calm that is readily accessible at little cost and can raise awareness not only of their thoughts – how to observe them and let them go – but also of the present moment and the wonder of the world around them.
Why I Started Thought Bubbles Mindfulness Meditation Programme
I devised my programme of meditation for children because of the benefits I have gained through my personal practice, as well as being a firm believer that I would have gained a lot from beginning meditation at a young age.
I have personally seen meditation work with a range of children from different cultures and backgrounds.
As with anything good, the effects won’t be immediate and it needs to become part of a regular routine, along with exercise and a healthy diet.
That said, with so many distractions you might find that you and your child would welcome a few moments of peace and calm each day.
I hope that you do.
Chris Ludlow is the founder of the Thought Bubbles Meditation Programme for Children.