Mindfulness Facts and Research

Photo courtesy of Dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo courtesy of Dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mindfulness Facts and Research

“Mindfulness has been defined as a certain way of paying attention: ‘on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.’ Mindfulness provides a means of handling distress with intention and nonjudgment via several proposed mechanisms:

  • First, bringing attention to the present-moment experience of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations shifts cognitive focus away from the past (such as a memory of a troubling incident) and the future (such as apprehension of impending trouble), thereby disrupting the connections between automatic cognitive interpretations and patterns of reacting.
  • Second, focus on present-moment internal and external experience broadens attention and allows for suspension of previously practiced patterns of reacting (avoidance or overengagement), sometimes called decentering.
  • Third, the quality of nonjudgment that is essential to mindfulness permits the observation of your experience without judgment or evaluation. The practice of orienting to experience with curiosity and acceptance strengthens tolerance for distress by altering automatic response patterns described previously. When practiced regularly, mindfulness can provide a powerful tool for restoring emotional balance and preventing engagement in harmful behavior.” (Barseghian, 2013).

“Recent large-scale epidemiological studies paint a dramatic and disturbing picture of the state of youth mental health. The landmark report in 2000 by the US Surgeon General (US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Education, & US Department of Justice) revealed that one in ten of our young people suffers from a mental health condition that meets diagnostic criteria, and one in five suffers from problems that significantly impair day-to-day functioning, including academic achievement and social relationships” (Barseghian, 2013).

“[In 2010], the first national representative sample of over ten thousand US adolescents, the NCS-A, reveals an even starker view. Approximately half of adolescents sampled (49.5 percent) met lifetime criteria for at least one diagnosed (DSM-IV) mental disorder, and 40 percent of these individuals met criteria for at least one additional mental disorder. Of this affected group, about one in four or five experienced symptoms so severe as to significantly impair their functioning across the life span” (Barseghian, 2013).

“Emotion regulation processes may be defined as those strategies used to moderate affective experiences in order to meet the demands of different situations or to achieve certain goals. Such processes can include identification, differentiation, and acceptance of emotional experiences; ability to manage distress and modulate excitement; capacity to sustain motivation; prioritization among competing goals; and adaptive adjustment of behavioral responses. Difficulties in emotion regulation are at the root of many adolescent disorders, including depression, eating disorders, deliberate self-injury, substance-abuse disorders, and greater reactivity to stress” (Barseghian, 2013).

Photo credit Dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo credit Dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“A report from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child put it this way:

‘When feelings are not well managed, thinking can be impaired. Recent scientific advances have shown how the interrelated development of emotion and cognition relies on the emergence, maturation, and interconnection of complex neural circuits in multiple areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, limbic cortex, basal forebrain, amygdala, hypothalamus, and brain stem. The circuits that are involved in the regulation of emotion are highly interactive with those that are associated with “executive functions” (such as planning, judgment, and decision making), which are intimately involved in the development of problem-solving skills during the preschool years. In terms of basic brain functioning, emotions support executive functions when they are well regulated, but interfere with attention and decision making when they are poorly controlled’” (Barseghian, 2013).

Photo courtesy of Nutdanai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo courtesy of Nutdanai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Studies of mindfulness programs in schools have found that regular practice — even just a few minutes per day — improves student self-control and increases their classroom participation, respect for others, happiness, optimism, and self-acceptance levels. It can help reduce absenteeism and suspensions too. A mindfulness practice helps reduce activity in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center responsible for fear and stress reactions” (Schwartz, 2014).

  • Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, CA first introduced Quiet Time (QT), a stress-reduction program as an optional activity, in the spring of 2007. The program consists of two periods, 15 minutes each in the morning and afternoon, when students may choose to sit quietly or meditate. Since starting the Quiet Time intervention, this school has achieved the following:

 

  • BEHAVIORS
    • 50% reduction in suspensions
    • 65% reduction in truancy

 

  • ACADEMICS
    • .5% increase in overall grade point average

Source: (Daily Meditation: A bold approach to reducing student stress).

photostock at freedigitalphotos.netTrauma

“There’s a lot of grief and loss,” Williams said. “A lot of students experience violence on a daily basis, either in the home or in the community. And it’s coming out in their school work, in their interactions with other students, the climate of the school, it affects that” (Schwartz, 2014).

“All the schools the Mindful Life Project [in Richmond, California] works with have seen drops in detentions and referrals. At Nystrom, 18 kids accounted for 82 percent of the suspensions. At the beginning of their mindfulness training those kids were suspended 62 times in the first trimester. After three trimesters of mindfulness practice, that rate had dropped to 20” (Schwartz, 2014).

“’When we look at low-performing schools it’s not that these children are unable to learn, it’s that very often they are unavailable to learn,’ said Madeline Kronenberg, a West Contra Costa County school board member. ‘They’re not able to focus; they’re so fixated on other things that are going on in their lives that it’s difficult for them to be able to find space for learning. Our job is to educate these kids and the way you educate them is that they need to be available to learn’” (Schwartz, 2014).

Mindful Eating

Photo courtesy of Nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhoto.net
Photo courtesy of Nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhoto.net

“Mindful eating [is a practice] that focuses on cultivating ‘present moment awareness’ during meal times. [It] invites participants to ‘pay attention’ to the food in front of them and engage their five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) before consuming a single morsel. This mindfulness practice builds the children’s awareness of important physical cues like hunger and satiety” (Fraga, 2016).

“While mindful eating is scientifically proven to help prevent overeating and obesity, a new psychological study suggests that it may also forestall eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, which affect 30 million people each year and are the deadliest of psychiatric illnesses” (Fraga, 2016).

“’Mindful eating teaches children how to connect with their body signals, and learn how to eat intuitively,’ says Kelsey Latimer, an eating disorders psychologist at the Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders and Children’s Health in Dallas. ‘This form of intuitive eating helps us distinguish between physical and emotional hunger and can help curtail overeating and binging’” (Fraga, 2016).

Resources

Barseghian, T. (2013, September 12). Why teaching mindfulness benefits students’ learning. Retrieved June 24, 2016, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/09/12/why-teaching-mindfulness-benefits-students-learning/

Daily Meditation: A bold approach to reducing student stress. (n.d.). Retrieved June 24, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/stw-student-stress-meditation

Fraga, J. (2016, March 16). How schools are using ‘mindful eating’ to help prevent eating disorders.  Retrieved June 24, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/03/16/how-schools-are-using-mindful-eating-to-help-prevent-eating-disorders/

Schwartz, K. (2014, January 17). Low-Income schools see big benefits in teaching mindfulness.  Retrieved June 24, 2016, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/01/17/low-income-schools-see-big-benefits-in-teaching-mindfulness/