Meditate

*Click, click, scroll, click*. This is how I found a course called Mindfulness and Skillful Living, listed in the course catalog.

I wasn’t quite sure what exactly mindfulness was, but it intrigued me. It seemed like it would involve meditation. I once had a professor who would often do guided meditations during class. I had the misconception that the idea of meditation was to “clear” your mind of any thoughts. I’ve learned that mindfulness and meditation have the exact opposite goal.

Mindfulness is awareness without judgment and with curiosity and kindness. With time and effort, mindfulness leads to a slew of positive cognitive, behavioral and physical effects, and reduces negative outcomes like stress, anxiety and depression.

Early in the semester, I had asked why mindfulness and mindfulness practices are not being taught in schools. After twelve weeks of learning about mindfulness, I am confident it should be taught in schools.  

Mindfulness can be practiced formally or informally. It can be done with breath-work, anchoring oneself to a sound, object, or sensation, and yoga. It can also be as simple as sipping a cup of coffee or when walking upstairs.

Since joining this class, I have learned ways to calm my chaotic mind. I have also learned how I can deal with difficult situations more skillfully. From chatting with my classmates, one thing is clear: mindfulness reduces stress.  

Stress, anxiety and depression seem to be more prevalent than ever with the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent study, 16 out of 195 college students reported suicidal thoughts because of the stress associated with this health crisis.

Clearly, it is more important than ever to be able to manage our negative emotions during these unprecedented times. It is important to note that mindfulness practices will not relieve all of our worries and negative thoughts.

However, it is vital to our health and well-being to attempt to reduce these stressors and prevent it from perpetuating destructive thinking and accumulating in our bodies. Research shows that there is a positive correlation to chronic stress and inflammation. Throbbing headaches, aching muscles, exhaustion and stomach issues. Sound familiar? 

In one study, a virtual 5-day mindfulness-based intervention was effective in lowering stress for college students. Stress management techniques were able to “...reduce emotional or physiological responses that result from stressful events. Largely, they consist of cognitive‐behavioral based approaches to teach coping skills or approaches that employ meditation, relaxation, or imagery” it said. By becoming more accepting and mindful of their coping mechanisms, students were able to reduce stress symptoms and increase positive affect.

In other words, students began experiencing the effects of the broaden-and-build theory. Can you imagine how much more satisfying our lives could be if we were taught about mindfulness at a young age?

There are many reasons why some would be opposed to mindfulness being taught in schools.

One reason could be that some parents have strong beliefs about religions in school settings. Practices like meditation did originate from  Buddhist teachings, however it is not necessarily the case today. A similar concept is those who practice yoga. Some will attach spiritual meaning while participating in this practice, while many others simply use it as a mean of  exercise.

A second reason could be that some believe this is not a matter for the school, but one's home. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Mental disorders among children are an important public health issue because of their prevalence, early-onset, and impact on the child, family, and community.” Lack of mindfulness can easily lead to mental disorders. If healthy mindfulness practices are never taught, reinforced and practiced this can cause long-term systemic issues. This can lead to poor academic achievement, higher risk of delinquency and crime, job instability and more people depending on public assistance. Mindfulness should be taught for preventative measures.

Although mindfulness can improve one’s well-being, there are key factors to keep in mind.

“Considering the level of commitment that is involved with mindfulness-based interventions, one could assume that there is a well-established association between the amount of time an individual engages in mindfulness practices and subsequent symptom alleviation” said a researcher in a study titled “Mindfulness Practice, Rumination and Clinical Outcome.” One must put in the time, energy, and effort into these practices.

With dedication, you will learn how to let go of attachments, be more present in your day-to-day activities, become more accepting, and see things as they truly are.

However, mindfulness can be more difficult to some due to certain upbringing and cultures. It seems that everyone’s mental health improves when incorporating moments of mindfulness into their lives. Negative emotions decrease, positivity increases, we become physically and mentally healthier, and we can begin to lead more satisfying lives.