For those of us older than 30 and not from southern California, meditation was not part of our childhood curriculum. If we engaged in deep breathing, it was because we were running too fast, not because we were part of a mindfulness-based stress-reduction program.
But meditation in classrooms is skyrocketing. Youth meditation programs have popped up in England, the United States, Canada, and India. Research shows that it is helping to reduce stress and decrease rates of depression. It may also improve academic results, though this area of research is less developed.
Last year, Educational Psychology Review looked at evidence from 15 peer-reviewed studies examining whether meditation improved children’s well-being, social competence, and academic performance. It found that school-based meditation is beneficial in the majority of cases, with 61 percent of the results being statistically significant. The majority of effects were small, though a third were medium or strong. They ranged from kids reporting fewer feelings of anxiety and stronger friendships to teachers seeing more settled classrooms.
“Small effects should not be dismissed, and some would argue that ‘every little bit helps’ when it comes to fostering student success,” the researchers concluded. The biggest effects came from the most intense programs in terms of duration and frequency of practice. Those geared toward deliberately increasing cognitive function and emotional regulation worked better than the fly-by-night ones. The study noted that for all the increase in school-based meditation programs, their design and implementation has not been adequately supported by research.