Mindfulness classes actually reshape kids’ brains so that the parts of the brain that respond to “anxiety and stress are getting smaller and the parts of the brain that lead you to feel calmer and manage our impulses and feel kinder to yourself and other people are actually growing.” Katherine Weare of Exeter University in England. Weare was part of a research team that studied 522 students, ages 12 to 16 in secondary schools in England in 2013. This quote is taken from an interview she did on the BBC World News Report on March 27, 2013.
Weare has been doing research into mindfulness practices in education for several years. She is an international expert in the field of social and emotional learning. The way she described mindfulness is compelling:
“Mindfulness contrasts with the state of mindlessness, which is the one in which much of life is lived for many people, moving through experience, rarely noticing the present moment, ruminating on the past or worrying about the future and making premature and unhelpful judgements coloured by ingrained preconceptions and mental patterns.”
Once students notice the thought patterns they have — often planning what’s to come or worrying about something that happened in the past — they can gain space from the thought and let it pass. “This feeling will pass,” they can tell themselves. Or, “Here I go worrying again. I wonder why I do that so much?”
The practice of noticing thoughts and even labeling them, a skill students acquire in mindfulness classes, helps kids take a step back from strong feelings and ideas and consider them with more objectivity. It gives them a chance to pause before reacting to a situation or event. With mindfulness, they can respond skillfully to experiences that might trigger intense anger, fear, or anxiety.