Although meditation and mindfulness are two very different practices, both are similar in that they are:
1) Often misunderstood and 2) incredibly beneficial, especially for our nation’s youth. Now backed by science, both practices have been proven effective for nearly the entire population. For children and teens, however, the most profound benefits come with proper instruction by a mindfulness or meditation teacher because they understand the nuances, able to answer questions and provide support along the way.
Sometimes talked about as the same thing, meditation and mindfulness are actually two separate practices. In general, meditation is a practice that is done at a specific time and in a specific place. When practiced, it becomes a healthy habit, akin to brushing your teeth or washing your hands. It is however, an isolated practice, one that is meant to improve your overall life the way daily walking would your health. Mindfulness, on the other hand, can be considered more as a lifestyle, a way to move through your day. Tapping into mindfulness practices is something you can do anywhere, anytime. Whatever you are doing, it’s possible for you to be mindful. If meditation is a great exercise, then mindfulness is like breathing.
The Benefits of Meditation
According to science, meditation has been proven to “reduce blood pressure… anxiety and depression, and insomnia.” Some studies have shown that it’s an effective way to manage pain, although researchers are still waiting for conclusive evidence before releasing a statement. Meditation, unlike other health and wellness practices, is almost always considered safe. And, since it’s accessible to everyone, it’s able to have an even larger impact on society as a whole.
For children and teens, meditation can be a powerful practice for “increasing calmness and physical relaxation.” Additionally, many studies have shown that when youth add a meditation practice to their daily routine it actually improves psychological balance, which in turn improves overall health and wellbeing. Other scientific studies suggest that “meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors.”
Because there are so many different types of meditation practices available, it’s important to seek advice and instruction from a professional. Many individuals who attempt to begin a meditation practice on their own are left with a poor impression, unable to stick with it or confused as to what they are supposed to be doing. A properly trained professional can ensure that children and teens learn meditation methods that are most effective for youth.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
The meditation teacher, scientist and author Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as simply “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Although easier said than done, the benefits of practicing mindfulness are so profound that encouraging children and teens to embrace it is a mission we all should be rallying behind.
According to Ohio State University psychologist Ruchika Prakash, “mindfulness is about creating this deeper relationship with who we are as a person and developing greater self-awareness.” The idea of practicing mindfulness is something that should be at the forefront of our conversations about our culture’s youth, especially considering how easy it has become to be mindless behind the screens of very addictive technology. When taught appropriately, mindfulness can become very therapeutic, giving individuals “techniques that can lead to improved emotion regulation and, with time and practice, improved connectivity between different parts of the brain.”
Another study found that children who were taught mindful awareness practices had better executive function after eight weeks of training twice a week. Children who practice mindfulness and meditation develop self-awareness, attention, and self management which influences pro-social behavior and decision making.
Teaching children how to be mindful from a very young age is, then, critical for their mental health and well-being down the road. Not only does mindfulness improve the way an individual lives, but it actually improves the way his or her brain functions, giving them an advantage to thrive in every aspect of their life, from personal to professional. According to research Prakash has conducted, even basic mindfulness training can have a hugely positive impact on brain health. Among the biggest benefits of teaching mindfulness is that it reduces “emotional disregulation,” something that, if left unchecked, can be very destructive not only for the individual, but for society as a whole.
New research, specifically geared towards studying the positive effects of mindfulness and youth, has demonstrated that it’s effective for “treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress.” Although it can seem difficult to try to explain mindfulness, let alone teach it, to young children, once you see a professional doing it you realize how incredibly simple - and beautiful - the practice is.
Something as simple as paying attention to the breath, whether when practicing mindfulness or meditation is a physical, tangible way to help even the youngest of children begin to reap the benefits. For best results, most experts agree that live individualized one-on-one sessions or live small group classes in person or video conferencing are the best place to start.
And start you should.
According to a study done with Stanford University, just two months of meditation and mindfulness training for children in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades showed a dramatic improvement in anxiety and attention. Furthermore, the study showed that the children who went through the training were “less emotionally reactive and more able to handle daily challenges and choose their behavior.”