“Welcome to this five minute pause in your day. Allow your eyes to close.” This is how Christopher Farina’s Advanced Placement psychology students begin their class each day.
The students perform mindful meditation, a popular form of relaxation in which participants focus on their thoughts, feelings, sounds or breath by sitting in silence with their eyes closed. This method does not require any spiritual belief, but rather, it gives individuals an opportunity to shut out unnecessary thoughts to facilitate a deeper connection with themselves. Meditational practice, which stems from an ancient Buddhist relaxation practice, has become increasingly popular in Western culture in recent years, according to Psychology Today. Studies show that a few minutes of this mindful meditation each day can lead to emotional benefits that mirror the benefits of physical activity.
Palo Alto High School should systematically implement meditation into the beginning of certain class periods per week to reduce stress, foster a healthy class environment and encourage high levels of focus.
On a typical school day, most teachers are unable to give their students time to exercise or participate in stress-relieving activities. With that, students are expected to sit for six hours each day, with an occasional break, while simultaneously maintaining a healthy well being. This causes stress that often weighs down students, and it is essential to find an effective method to alleviate it.
To their credit, Paly administrators have focused on finding ways to reduce Paly’s high-stress culture in the past years. One of their solutions included introducing meditation into classrooms. By the end of the year, however, most teachers did not continue the practice, aside from a select few.
Josh Bloom, astronomy teacher and Teacher on Special Assignment for social and emotional learning, is one of the few faculty members who introduces students to meditational practices each year. According to Bloom, he began the mindful practice five years ago to sort out the stress in his own life. After Bloom found the results to be beneficial, he decided to share the practice with his students.
“There’s a lot of pressure on kids in this community around this idea of success, what success means, and what’s required for success,” Bloom said.
Introducing just five minutes of meditation at the beginning of each class at Paly could be the beginning of a solution to this problem.
Meditation has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety, increase calmness and enable people to enjoy their lives to a fuller and happier extent. For students, meditation is a chance to control one’s own mind and live in the present moment, providing an opportunity to pause during a hectic day, according to the website, Love & Life.
“The mindfulness of this experience is creating space for you to focus on what’s going on inside of you,” Bloom says. “To allow yourself to step back and become aware of your thoughts, and how you’re thinking.”
Meditation is also a way to focus attention and eliminate the stream of thoughts crowding your mind. Students who meditate during class time will find themselves retaining information better after refueling. They will be able to work harder with more energy, and therefore succeed more in their classes.
The practice of meditation also benefits students physically. Meditation enables an inner quiet and peace in people, which has been scientifically proven to slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease the production of stress hormones. Just five minutes a day of this practice grows the areas of the brain associated with memory, empathy and sense of self, according to Medical Daily, a website dedicated to sharing studies on mental health.
Students could begin to earn these physical and emotional benefits if teachers of one required course introduce meditation into their classes. Therefore, students would be given a chance to experience the practice two or three times per week, which is enough time to receive healthy benefits through just a brief five minutes a day.
This would require commitment from the department, and although some might argue that these practices would waste valuable class time, one should keep in mind that it takes less than five minutes at the beginning of a class period, providing benefits that outweigh the small amount of time used for meditation. English teacher George Vuong, who has introduced meditation to students after learning about the method at the end of last year, advocates for other teachers to introduce it as well.
“This is a good beginning of a class period to kind of help things get settled down and make a more calm environment,” Vuong said.
Meditation creates many more focused, relaxed and de-stressed students, allowing students to put in more effort, interest and their attention into the period’s classwork.
“[Through meditation] you begin to discover the aspects of ourselves that are common to all human beings,” said Bloom. “The more you come to know and understand that part of our human being, the more we begin to understand that part being in all of us.”
Who knew that a simple five minute task every few days could so significantly impact our lives?