- Over 40 schools across the country from Texas to Washington have incorporated this into their curriculum through workshops and clubs, says Dr. Ranjani Iyer, Director of Heartfulness Program for Schools.
The unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety that children today are subject to is no secret. Extreme competitiveness at schools, peer pressure, the overwhelming after-school and extra-curricular classes saddled with expectations to excel in those are pushing children to the brink.
And the lure of social media has put the younger generation pretty much on edge. Things are particularly challenging for children coming from emotionally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
This yearning to be perfect all the time with all eyes on you is a dangerous concoction, especially for young, fragile minds.
A national WebMD survey found school and friends are the biggest sources of stress among children, with 72% associated with stress-linked negative behavior. Corroborating this is the American Psychological Association that found that high school students have stress levels higher than those of adults.
To worsen things, the pandemic has cut off whatever little constructive social interaction kids had to keep them afloat.
Increasingly, therefore, schools and parents are encouraging children to try meditation, a calming tool that can help students maintain balance, find peace within, increase focus, self-control and help with emotional and coping mechanisms.
Schools are, in fact, focusing more on wellness than ever before with budgets set aside specifically for this purpose.
Principal Amanda Melsby of Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., says “We are working on tools the students can use to manage their stress and could use to manage throughout their life, not just while in school.”
One such tool has been to incorporate meditation and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) practices through which young adults acquire and apply skills and attitudes to manage emotions, establish and maintain healthy relationships and show empathy to others.
Beena Shah, a Life Coach who conducted meditation sessions with over 650 students at the Irvington High School says she was overwhelmed with the positive responses of the kids — “they were happy with this little pause in their very busy lives. We did not expect them to be so receptive of such a new idea.”
“I got my attention focused, it was great. I’m going to do it at home,” says a student from Cathedral High School, Manhattan after a meditation session.
Some schools have embraced the concept more deeply. The Renaissance Charter School in New York City, for instance, has a complete “Heartfulness” curriculum from elementary up to high school.
Dr. Ranjani Iyer, Director of Heartfulness Program for Schools, a program designed to manage stress and build social emotional skills to cope with real life challenges, in her article published in The American Journal of Health Behavior on the ‘Impact of Heartfulness based Elective in Middle School Students’ revealed a statistically significant improvement in coping skills, stress management and increase in overall well-being following the completion of a 13-week elective.
Dr. Iyer firmly believes in the increased efficacy of such character education programs when teachers are properly instructed in and ‘believe’ in programs built on the core competencies chartered by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), an organization that focuses on evidence based emotional learning – “I am personally aware of over 40 schools across the country from Texas to Washington that have incorporated this into their curriculum through workshops and clubs,” she says.
Talking about her own experiences as a mathematics teacher in Michigan, she talks about how she starts her class with 10 minutes of affirmations and “Heartfulness Relaxation.” “There is an initial hesitation, no doubt. But with continued repetition and patience and the palpable calmness that they experience, their perception changes,” she adds.
But, to maintain continuity, it is crucial to train teachers with the know-how to carry on the process once the sessions are over. Here is where trainers like Minoo Shinde, Founder of Learn as You Play, a learning center for kids and a Life Coach from New Jersey who train teachers in relaxation and meditation solutions play a paramount role. “We offer self-care for teachers and provide them with a curriculum packed with activities that they use in their class”, she explains. School Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) play a crucial role in organizing these sessions too.
What is most promising to see is how involved students themselves are in the process and how they’re taking it further at their own level.
Snehita Vallumchetla, a 12th grader from Union City, Calif., for whom meditation helps with improved work productivity has started her own group of fifteen students who come together to meditate regularly. Anushka Dhariwal, an 11th grader from River Edge, N.J. who follows Sahaj Yoga leads a meditation workshop with young teens and her sister, 8th grader Avani conducts virtual sessions for teens in her Girl Scout group.
Dr. Frank J. Sileo, licensed psychologist and author nails the importance of encouraging students to meditate on Thrive Global when he says it is “the best portable app around because you can always carry your breath with you.”
(Top photo courtesy Aviva Education/Facebook)
Nupur Bhatnagar is a lawyer by training, an entrepreneur and a storyteller. She is rationalist and an art enthusiast who is fascinated by history. She loves to read and watch historical dramas — sometimes even sees herself in them. Nupur lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.