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Should Your School start a Mindfulness Program?

In a recent study, 68.5% of Hong Kong students reported mild or severe symptoms of depression. And the number has risen rapidly in recent years. With a spotlight on youth mental health, some schools have introduced mindfulness programs for students. The question is, should your school do the same?

Mindfulness represents how we work our mind and how we can understand it. Many people have fallen prone to the notion that meditation is just a quick, one-time remedy that people use to temporarily let go of stress or an activity worth taking up if we can’t focus. This isn’t true.

So what is Mindfulness? Just as we work out our physical muscles, mindfulness is working out our mental muscles. When we build muscles, they function stronger and work more efficiently without using as much energy. We become more creative. Our memory improves, and we are able to focus better.

Mindfulness is especially useful for our youth as the brain goes through many changes before the age of 25. Through practices of mindfulness, our brain goes through neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, where the brain forms new connections and pathways, changes how its circuits are wired, and grows new neurons, prompting us to think with more clarity. This is why teaching this concept of focusing on improving our mind and actually investing in training the mind, just as our body, is very important at a young age.

After we understand why investing in the mind is especially important for a young brain, let’s understand how we do this.

One of the key skills of mindfulness is learning to live in the present moment. This means not focusing too much attention on the past or future. It is about savouring and enjoying the present moment. To make us open our eyes to the present situation is an especially useful skill for Hong Kong’s students. In a city with tough competition and high expectations for kids, many youngsters worry about performing well on their exams, and meeting expectations from parents. Although healthy stress (eustress) promotes productivity and performance, not many of us manage it well. This is where a simple awareness that one is focusing too much on a past failure, or excessively worrying about a future exam can go a long way. With self-awareness, our youth can be trained to notice when stress turns harmful.

Instead of living in the past or future, our students can learn to enjoy the process – which also makes them happier.

Mindfulness is a useful tool for future readiness in a VUCA world. In a world that’s constantly changing – with an increasing amount of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, the most successful leaders don’t just manage time well. They are also trained to manage their attention span – which can be improved with the help of simple meditations. Studies also link mindfulness to creativity, problem-solving skills and better decision-making.

Mindfulness doesn’t only mean acknowledging positive thoughts. It means noticing thought patterns and cycles, which is very useful to prevent mental health challenges. When we see invasive or intrusive thoughts entering our roaming mind, we should let them pass by instead of being fully encapsulated by them. If our youth can recognize when they’re going through repetitive depressive thoughts and break the negative thought cycle, we’ll see our future generations develop resilience.

This concept of “responding” and not “reacting” is another useful tool which can be applied to daily stressors and adverse situations. As a teenager myself, when I was stressed, I found practices of mindfulness to be extremely helpful. During a Meditation session few weeks back, I felt an intense cleansing of mind and relief from anxiety and stress. I learned to “respond” to a situation, rather than “reacting” to it. This meant taking time to evaluate the situation and going in with the right mindset. 10 minutes of mindfulness a day made a lasting impact on me.

What about focus? Mindfulness is an excellent tool to improve concentrate as schools rotate between face-to-face, remote and hybrid classroom setups. A World Wide Web of distractions pose a threat to student engagement and focus. Instead of punishing students for getting distracted, we could train them to notice when attention drifts off and bring themselves back patiently. Our students can use these skills to study better and even work more effectively when they join the workforce.

Can Mindfulness help an overthinking brain? The answer is yes. Imagine you’re meditating and unable to focus. There’s a good chance you’re analyzing why this is happening. Don’t focus on the finding the answer. Just be mindful of your thoughts. Our overthinking brain always becomes anxious about what could happen, or what might happen, but not what is happening, and that’s what mindfulness is trying to do.

We talked about mindfulness being a mental workout. If there’s one thing that mindfulness and exercise routines have in common, it’s commitment. This commitment is needed, especially in today’s day and age, where teenagers are so encompassed in their virtual worlds. As the trend persists, we’re seeubg shorter attention spans in kids. This is why it’s so important to start early.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been taking a course on the applied practices of mindfulness. The course has had a positive impact on my life, especially with combatting stress and anxiety. On the first day of class, we were asked to measure our heart rate and calmness. My initial resting heart rate was about 64 bpm and my calmness level was 43 out of 100. During our course, we experienced mindfulness activities like sensory deprivation tanks, forest bathing meditations, and gong bath meditation. All while having one hour of yoga everyday and 30 minutes of seated meditation at the end of class too. After the program, I recorded my resting heart rate to a lower 61 bpm and calmness level at 71 out of 100.

Although it doesn’t always have instantaneous effect, in my opinion, mindfulness is a journey that guides you to a more obstacle-free and anxiety free mind. So as I always say regarding mindfulness, “Trust the process”.

As kids nowadays are overtaken by their thoughts, causing a decline in the youth's mental health and their ability to realize their full potential, this learning should be prevalent in schools and COVID has helped us realize this.

Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert says in his TED talk, “We can’t change every little thing that happens to us in life, but we can change the way that we experience it. That’s the potential of meditation and mindfulness.”.

How is your organization going to explore the potential of Mindfulness?


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