Mindful meditation is an effective method for improving mental and physical well-being. The changes in the brain impact learning because mindful meditation can be used in our daily life as a great way to calm and regulate emotions. A calm body can learn better. The clinical effectiveness of mindful meditation has been suggested to be effective with mental health issues, stress and pain related issues.
There is new research that suggests that by regularly eliciting the relaxation response – in this case – mindful meditation can act on our brain/genes in ways to help and reduce the harmful effects of stress (Fabiny, 2014). There was research conducted at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital that suggested that the relaxation exercises temporarily changed the activity of certain genes. Reportedly it switches off genes associated with chronic inflammatory responses; and at the same time switches on genes linked with the use of energy in the body, release of insulin and several other functions of the body. This research was conducted over an 8 week time period and practiced 20 minutes per day. There were 2 groups of participants; long time practitioners of mindful meditation and beginners who had not used these techniques before. The study looked at changes in the gene activity and the researchers collected pre and two post blood samples after each meditation session. The changes noted were profound in terms of gene activity, more so in the long term meditation practitioners. Interestingly however the gene activity was only altered with ongoing practice of the mindful meditation activities.
There are a few different ways that I would try and use mindful meditation: when beginning to teach about mindful mediation I have often used children’s storybooks to set the climate of the learning environment. Two books that I love to use are “Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda” and the other is “I am Peace”. After the stories are read we typically have a guided discussion about these books asking questions such as what were these stories about? What is the take-home message from these books? What is mindfulness? Does anyone currently practice these techniques? What might be the benefit of practicing these techniques?
Another tecnique is the body scan activity. It is very easy to use and there are many scripts available to download both as well as apps that will take you through a body scan exercise. The body scan involves sitting quietly in a chair and closing your eyes. It is a series of sequential movements that moves up and down your body starting with your toes where you tighten muscles, hold the tightness and then release them. Throughout this I would also be explaining to students to pay attention to their body and begin by bringing awareness to the breath, noticing the rhythm, the experience of breathing in and expelling out. I would also explain that nobody should try to change the way they are breathing but rather just hold gentle awareness on the breath. The activity can last anywhere from 5-10 minutes. After the body scan is complete I would then debrief the activity by asking questions such as; how do you feel? What do you notice about their body and mind? What is your current energy level at? How do you feel now compared to how you felt before the relaxation activity?
In conclusion, mindful meditation is a tried and true research based way to calm our body and emotions.
Alderfer, 2011. Mindful monkey, happy panda. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Brown, E. (2016). Mindfulness mediation: A mental workout to benefit the brain (PDF document).
Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Website: https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/assets/Harvard%20Now%20and%20Zen%20Reading% 20Materials.pdf
Fabiny, A. (2014). What meditation can do for your mind, mood and health (PDF document). Retrieved
From Lecture Notes Online Website: https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/assets/Harvard%20Now%20and%20Zen%20Reading%20Materials.pdf
Grecucci, A., Pappaianni, E., Siugdaite, R., Theuninck, A. & Job, R. (2015). Mindful emotion regulation:
Exploring the neurocognitive mechanisms behind mindfulness. Biomed Research International, (7), 1-15.doi: 10.1155/2015/670724
Verde, S. (2017). I am peace. New York: Abrams Books.
Written by Jillien Humphrey