An Effective Approach to Reduce Students’ Stress

It’s no secret that students are facing increasing psychological and emotional stresses at school both academically and socially. Fortunately, meditation can help resolve some of these problems, and schools have already seen positive results by integrating just a few minutes of daily quiet time.

The Visitacion Valley Example

Edutopia recently studied Visitacion Valley Middle School’s meditation program, where students sit quietly or meditate in periods designated as “Quiet Time” in the morning and afternoon for 15 minutes at a time. In the seven years since the program’s implementation, the school has experienced dramatic changes in student behavior: suspensions are down 50 percent, truancy has declined 65 percent, and overall GPA has increased .5 percent.

As students relax and clear their minds, they are better equipped to deal with situations inside and outside the school. For instance, the neighborhood surrounding Visitacion experienced 41 murders in 2002-2003, and many students had connections to those who were killed. Quiet Time helped students feel safe and process the grief and fear they experienced as a result of the crimes. Their improved behavior has also made faculty more apt to remain with the school.

The statistics are just as encouraging on a nationwide level. 91 U.S. schools engaging in meditation have also seen improvement to their students’ well-being, including increased scores on attention-skills tests and a reduction in aggressive behavior.

Types of Meditation

Image via Flickr by connerdowney

Image via Flickr by connerdowney

Meditation techniques, such as transcendental meditation, focus on calming the mind in a deeply inward and natural way. The mind focus “transcends” all outside experiences and calms the body by decreasing the cortisol (stress hormone) that the body produces.

Mindful meditation (MM) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques have moderately improved students’ test scores and attitudes. By providing techniques to manage the stress and anxiety problems that plague many students today, both MM and MBSR have yielded improved attitudes toward stress pressures and a willingness to voluntarily engage in meditation techniques as often as three times per day.

Doug Oman of the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues conducted a study of 200 first- and second-year college students to determine if meditation lowered stress and increased forgiveness. The results show that students’ stress levels indeed decreased and their ability to forgive increased. However, like similar studies, Oman’s study acknowledged the small size of the sample groups, thus limiting the outcomes. Nevertheless, studies on meditation’s effect on student attitudes indicate promise in improving student behavior.

Real World Applications

Students aren’t alone in benefitting from meditation. Large organizations, including General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and the U.S. Marine Corps, embrace meditation because it has led to an improvement in employees’ decision-making abilities. The New York University Stern School of Business introduced meditation to its MBA students as a way to manage anxiety and react to stressful situations more peaceably.

How to Implement a Meditation Program

While evidence supporting meditation in schools isn’t conclusive yet, it’s convincing enough to give quiet time a try. Starting a meditation program is more than just getting students to be quiet for a few minutes. Based on the Visitacion Valley program, Edutopia offers four steps to implement a meditation program:

  1. Identify Key Problems: Determine what behavior problems need to be addressed by meditation. Is there a truancy problem? Have students experienced a traumatic shared experience? Are students not achieving academically? The solution isn’t a solution until the problem is identified.
  2. Prepare for Implementation: Arm yourself with relevant research to convince administrators and fellow faculty to implement a meditation program, and to convince and obtain permission from parents. Next, train teachers, and then train students in meditation techniques and explain the physical and psychological benefits of such an activity.
  3. Determine How Meditation Time Will Be Spent: Meditation is not at all equivalent to being inactive. Some students will choose to free their mind through quietly reading or drawing. Encourage students to explore their own relaxation techniques, but make it clear to them that meditation time isn’t a time to do homework.
  4. Adjust School Space and Schedule Accordingly: Designate a specific room for meditation, and adjust the overall school schedule to accommodate meditational time.

Getting Students Excited About Meditation

Convincing faculty, administrators, and parents to begin a meditation program isn’t enough; you also have to convince the students. Meditation can be made a kind of game, especially for younger children. Meditation expert Sarah Wood Vallely suggests three meditation activities:

  1. Grounding Cord: In this exercise, children imagine a cord connecting their bottoms to the ground, reaching deep into the center of the earth. They are then instructed to imagine their energy and unwanted thoughts traveling down the cord and far away from them. This exercise encourages children to release their troubles and cares.
  2. Sleepy Cloud: When a child engages in Sleepy Cloud, they relax each muscle group with each deep breath. They then imagine a cloud above their head descending on them and encouraging them to sleep. This technique would work best in a preschool or kindergarten environment in which children take naps.
  3. Happy Tree: Like Sleepy Cloud, Happy Tree encourages children to allow each muscle group to relax with each deep breath. Next, they imagine a tree containing both happy and sad fruit, and they try to determine what will help the sad fruit become happy. They then imagine the sun shining on the tree and mentally put things that they enjoy into the sun, watching the positive energy radiate from the sun to the tree. During Happy Tree, children become more attuned to their feelings and needs.
  4. Encouraging Meditation: Other meditation experts highlight the importance of encouraging children to meditate by giving them examples of people who meditate, such as sports heroes or celebrities. This taps into children’s natural tendency to mimic their heroes.
  5. Create Calm: Create a room with calming colors, or have students bring in an object from home that helps calm them. Teach them that meditation can be done most anywhere, even in the classroom when no one else knows. This eases children’s fears about being ridiculed by peers for meditating. Above all, be willing to meditate with them; after all, children learn by example.

In Short

Empirical evidence suggests that meditation can improve student behavior regardless of age. With more pressures on students than ever, it is important to teach children early how to manage the challenges that they face each day.

1 Comment

  1. Martin Fischberger

    February 7, 2015 at 8:00 am

    Ah yes, the nanny state in action. Don’t worry about raising your kids right; the state will take care of them. We’ll feed them, educate them, provide them with free health care, and if you’re a particularly rotten parent, we’ll even take them away from you, too.

    Forget fundamentals like math and reading — we’ll teach your kids to meditate! You know who meditates? Jedis and Buddhists. Jedis aren’t real, and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Do you want your child believing that they’ll come back as a cat or an African princess or a daffodil? No. Leads to recklessness. What we need is not meditation, but firm discipline, and daily calisthenics. Make ‘em work for their lunch is what I say.

    Meditation. Please. As if California is a model for anything!