Mindfulness has long been revered by yogis, gurus and healers of all kinds as a highly transformative practice. In recent years, mindfulness activities like meditation have even gained traction in school settings as viable alternatives to traditional disciplinary methods.
However, until recently, little was known about the underlying mechanisms that drive the ‘magic’ of mindfulness.
Neuroscientists and psychologists are finding that mindfulness not only changes our mental outlook on life, but literally changes the landscape of our brains.
Researchers have found that integrating mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) in school contexts reduces attention control problems and improves students’ cognitive performance.
Specifically, mindfulness activities have shown to increase grey matter in parts of the brain that support learning and memory.
Mindfulness also reduces circulating cortisol levels, decreasing the body’s level of stress and stress-related inflammation.
In children specifically, mindfulness has been proven to reduce activity in the amygdala, the brain's emotional regulation center, essentially recalibrating the brain’s unconscious response to fear.
This means that if introduced early, mindfulness can fortify children’s resiliency and improve their ability to cope with high stress situations, both in school and life.
Mindfulness has also notably been proven to change students' outward behavior. One study of four schools saw reduced incidents of bullying and disruptive behavior in classes that adapted mindfulness as part of their curriculum.
According to scientists, one underlying mechanism for this change in social behavior is that mindfulness increases the volume of the temporoparietal junction, the brain area known to support empathy and compassion.
This science proves something perhaps we’ve long suspected; that when we nurture young minds, we don’t just change how children react, but importantly, the kind of people they become.
So, to summarize:
- Mindfulness positively impacts children’s focus and attention by decreasing mind wandering
- Mindfulness can improves cognitive performance and promotes growth in areas associated with learning and memory
- Reduces both the presence of stress and the amygdala’s response to stress, increasing resilience in scary situations
- Mindfulness Interventions positively impact children’s behavior, reducing disciplinary issues such as bullying
- Mindfulness supports growth in the areas of the brain responsible for empathy and compassion.
As more and more evidence is becoming available, it is clear that mindfulness is an invaluable tool that parents and educators can use to promote healthy cognitive and emotional development in children.
To learn more about mindfulness, and find fun and easy mindfulness practices you can do with your child at home, check out: 21 Mindfulness Exercises For Your Kids and the companion workbook: Buddha Bear’s Enlightenment Coloring Book.