Meditation Coming Soon to a Classroom Near You

Do you think meditation is an effective tool to help kids at school? (Thinkstock)In addition to the usual English, history and math classes, Canadian kids heading back to school this September may also receive instruction of a more serene variety. That's because an increasing number of schools are adding meditation to the curriculum, reports the CBC.

Meditation has only just entered the mainstream in North America. Until recently, only the students of forward-thinking teachers or those attending alternative schools received classroom meditation instruction.

Now, thanks to increased public awareness about the physical and mental health benefits that come with the practice, mainstream schools are eager to get certified meditation instructors into their schools. According to an article in Scientific American Mind, some 175 schools in Canada and 75 in the U.S. are already offering meditation courses.

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"Over the past five years we've really seen an increase in demand," says mediation instructor Dr. Abhimanyu Sud. He's talking about the in-school meditation programs that he teaches through The Art of Living, an international organization that facilitates free meditation classes and workshops given by volunteers.

Sud says that various school boards in Ontario have approached the organization to arrange in-school instruction, and he has personally given many workshops to students.

"There's more institutional support than before," says Sud. "Often the whole school will do the program together."

In the United States, meditation is getting some big name backers. Goldie Hawn has been promoting what she describes as "mindfulness" in a new book, and Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunited in 2010 to perform at a benefit concert to help fund meditation in schools.

One of the biggest promotors of meditation for children and teenagers is film director David Lynch. The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-based Education and World Peace facilitates numerous in-school programs, particularly in poorer neighbourhoods with at-risk youth. The foundation claims that students who have participated in their Quiet Time Program in Transcendental Meditation score higher on intelligence tests, improve their test scores, and have a higher graduation rates compared to students that don't take the program. The program has also been show to reduced stress levels, anxiety, depression, violence, and substance abuse.

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Sud agrees that the benefits of meditation to students are multifold. In addition to improving attention and the ability to focus, meditation can also improve general cognitive reserves, or what Sud describes as "how much gas is in your mental tank." It also makes your cognitive abilities more efficient, so that it takes less mental energy to complete a given task, he claims.

Sud says that while the increase in meditation in schools is encouraging, it's also indicative of a larger trend towards public awareness and acceptance of the benefits that come with the practice.

"We don't need to explain what mediation is or where it comes from anymore," says Sud. "It's an ability that belongs to everybody." The fact that it's in schools, says Sud, just makes sense.

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