What is especially fascinating to me is the neuroscience behind this. The brain is constantly rewiring and reshaping itself in response to experiences - known as neuroplasticity. You can literally CHANGE your mind. Evidence shows that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus – the area of the brain responsible for spatial awareness and memory. (E A Maguire et al.2000 “Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences”) Musicians who play stringed instruments have a more complex brain structure in the area responsible for fine motor movement. (B Johannson 2006 “Music and Brain Plasticity” European Review) And a recent study carried out at the University of California found that the areas of the brain responsible for attention were larger in people who practiced mindfulness. (E Luders al. 2009 Neuroimage 45 (3) 672-78)
Studies have been carried out which show that mindfulness can affect three parts of the brain, the limbic area (responsible for emotions), the reptilian area (responsible for adrenalin) and the cortical area – strengthening neural pathways here – which can regulate attention and reasoning – the part teachers are most interested in!
Children are very rarely taught much about the brain – how it helps US and how we can help IT - but more than that, it's important for children to be educated in the whole mind/body link. Our physical bodies are so finely tuned to our minds, constantly sending through messages, in relation to the experiences we’re having.
As interest in mindfulness has grown, so more researchers have been carrying out scientific trials. As the quality and quantity of data has grown, so more and more studies are being carried out. These trails have consistently concluded that mindfulness based stress reduction does not only have a positive impact across on a patient’s ability to cope with a wide range of medical conditions such as cancer, HIV, diabetes, IBS and heart disease, but also impacting on emotional wellbeing (improved sleep, less anxiety, more vitality).
In a study of more than 200,000 children who enrolled in an American mindfulness programme over eight weeks, the CABEL (collaborative for academic, behavioural and emotional learning) found classroom behaviour improved and pupils were more engaged in the learning process as a result. A decrease in depression became evident as well as an increase in their ability to handle emotions.
“Scientists are now suggesting that cognitive development is only 50% of the education equation. The other half is social and emotional development. Research reveals that developing EQ improves academic performance.”
University of California
"Following a mindfulness programme for 9 - 13 year olds, significant improvements were found on measures of attention and reduction in anxiety and behaviour problems"
Journal of Cognitive Psychology