In the most simple terms, mindfulness is a state of conscious awareness. It involves focusing one’s awareness in an accepting, nonjudgmental way on the various sensations, thoughts, or feelings that arise from moment to moment. Another way of understanding mindfulness is to break it into two components: (1) regulating attention to maintain focus on immediate experience, and (2) adopting an orientation towards that awareness characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
Decades of research showing the benefits of mindfulness has led many institutions outside of hospitals to adopt it. Companies like Google, sports teams like the Seattle Seahawks, and even the US military have introduced mindfulness practices. Due to the successes of mindfulness in medical settings, schools began experimenting with the practice in the 1990s and 2000s. The outcomes have been so positive that mindfulness is becoming integrated into the entire UK education system. In the last decade, mindfulness has also been incorporated into many US schools with great success.
- Improves attention and focus
- Reduces stress and improves well-being
- Greater emotional regulation
- Decreases aggression
- Improved capacity for compassion and empathy
- Improves immune system
- Brain-imaging studies at Harvard have shown that long-term mindfulness training can help thicken the cortical regions related to attention and sensory processing.
- Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
Because the available evidence for mindfulness is so positive, we have begun to integrate it into all of our classrooms. At least once a day, teachers lead students a simple, brief mindfulness exercise.