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«Mindfulness in the Classroom An Overview for Educators Programs for Mindful Living 3343 East Calhoun Parkway Minneapolis, MN 55408 ...»

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teachers has proven to be exponentially more effective when it is based on long- term personal practice.

Founding members of Programs for Mindful Living are priests and staff at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center (MZMC) who have extensive experience in teaching mindfulness- based ways of being in the world to children, adolescents, and adults. During their training, each priest, whom we prefer to call a meditation teacher, has undergone 5 – 7 years of education in mindfulness- based activities before they became eligible to be called an independent meditation teacher. This founding team provides training and guidance for all of the teachers who participate in Programs for Mindful Living activities.

Established in 1972, the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center is a 501(c)(3) non- profit religious organization. In order to expand its outreach activities, MZMC created the secular Programs for Mindful Living in 2015 in order to be able to apply for grants to support these outreach activities. At present, the activities of Programs for Mindful Living are concentrated in three areas: mindfulness in the classroom, mindfulness in elder care, and mindfulness in the corporate and business world. A background document similar to this one has been prepared for the mindfulness in elder care focus and is available upon request.

Programs for Mindful Living encourages teachers and administrators at all levels of education (K – 12 and higher education, and more broadly ”anyone who teaches anything”) to contact us at (612) 822- 5313 to arrange a meeting to discuss programs for mindful living suited to your teaching focus and/or to discuss our present and past activities as mindfulness- based teachers.

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People everywhere are suffering from mental and emotional stress, physical pain, disease and dis-ease and the suffering seems to begin at younger and younger ages. Not long ago the onset of major clinical depression usually came about in a person in their fifty’s or sixty’s. Increasingly we are seeing it in teenagers and even pre-teens. Studies show that depression has been occurring at progressively younger ages since the early part of the twentieth century and today it is a problem of epidemic proportions. Nobody understands why and consequently we have no map to recovery.

What is needed is nothing less than a profound shift in consciousness. When one realizes that a thought is just a thought rather than a truth, a shift occurs.

This is the onset of a new understanding and appreciation of one’s own mind. A new perspective opens up and with it comes new possibilities and potentials.

This in itself is healing.

To help us visualize the possible impact of perceiving reality in a new and open way Jon Kabet-Zinn uses this analogy: if you put two polarized filters together light is blocked. But if you rotate one of the filters by 90 degrees light streams in. Different perspectives, when held in a steady state of mindful awareness, can give rise to a rotation of consciousness. New degrees of freedom and possibilities open up.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is both a process and an outcome. We learn how to be mindful by doing it. The only proven process is a regular mindful meditation practice, a systematic practice of attending in an open, caring, non-judgmental, and discerning way which gives rise to a capacity to sustain a state of abiding presence. This deep knowing is mindfulness. It manifests as a freedom of mind, freedom from deeply ingrained, conditioned thought patterns and ways of perceiving and responding to the world.

4 Mindfulness is not an exotic or lofty state. It is a natural human capacity to inhabit one’s body, mind, and experience with openness and receptivity. It allows one to see beyond her or his fear, anger, and desire for things to be different. Mindfulness practice is the practice of clear-seeing. It is about wiping the dust from one’s lens of perception so we can see the world as it actually is.

Across cultures, our ancestors have used meditation practices that produce deep relaxation and mindful awareness for thousands of years—to heal, to foster positive feelings, and, to cultivate positive emotional states. Our thoughts and emotions influence every aspect of who we are. Learning to be mindful of one’s thoughts is a key to mental and emotional health.

Today progressive scientists are trying to understand how mindfulness practices actually work. Magnetic resonance imaging technology (MRI) has given us empirical data showing that we do have the ability to choose the thoughts and emotional reactions that define us. But first, we have to become mindful of our thoughts as they arise. Being mindful of our thoughts “as they arise” is an important point to emphasize because the possibility of a shift in consciousness abides: what comes later is regret and we all know that regret is not an affective way of changing behavior.

Below are two studies. The most astounding data that came from these studies is how quickly we can change our way of perceiving and responding to the world through mindfulness.

An Eight-Week Study:

This study involved sixteen participants. Before the study began, each participant had a brain MRI scan taken and responded to a questionnaire. Along with weekly meetings that included mindfulness meditation, participants practiced guided meditation at home using recordings for an average of thirty minutes each day.

5 After eight weeks, a second MRI and questionnaire confirmed positive changes.

The MRI showed increased density in the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory, and in other parts of the brain associated with selfawareness, compassion, and introspection. The participants reported reductions in stress, which correlated with decreased density in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with anxiety and stress. In other words, their quality of life soared after only eight weeks of mindfulness training.

A One-Day Study:

This study investigated the effects of just one day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators. They were compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet, non-meditative activities.

As in the previous study, MRI’s were taken before and after the eight-hour day.

The meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including levels of gene-regulation and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which means faster physical recovery from stressful situations.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” said study author Richard Davidson, who is a psychologist and neuroscientist and the founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mindfulness and the Capacity for Happiness

There have also been studies to investigate how mindfulness cultivates the inner conditions for true happiness. In any discussion about happiness it is important to distinguish between hedonic happiness, which is about pleasure-seeking, and eudemonic happiness, which is an abiding happiness that arises from a healthy state of mind. These two types of happiness are not new. Philosophers and spiritual leaders have been pointing out the difference for centuries.

6 Recently, it was discovered how these two types of happiness actually affect our physical health. Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina and her team looked at the biological influence of hedonic and eudemonic happiness on a molecular level. They wanted to know if the two kinds of happiness had an effect at the level of our genes.

Dr. Fredrickson discovered that while both offer a feeling of satisfaction, hedonic and eudaimonic happiness are experienced very differently within our immune cells. Hedonic pleasures are associated with an increased expression of genes involved in inflammation. This increase is responsible for inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and heart disease. And eudemonic pleasures are associated with a decrease in the expression of these genes.

Summing up her discovery, Dr. Fredrickson said, “We can make ourselves happy through simple pleasures, but those ‘empty calories’ don't help us broaden our awareness or build our capacity in ways that benefit us physically. At the cellular level, our bodies appear to respond better to a different kind of well-being, one based on a sense of connectedness and purpose.” Abiding happiness, which arises naturally from mindful awareness, is about finding one’s purpose in life and cultivating the capacity to move toward it. It does not break down under the pressures of life, disharmonies, and sufferings of life. Eudemonic happiness is not possible without the capacity to sustain mindful awareness.

Mindfulness Training in a Palliative Care Setting

Between 2008 and 2009 an independent research psychologist interviewed sixtysix hospice patients with advanced cancer who underwent twelve weeks of mindfulness training. Initially, the participants were surprised by the emphasis on learning new ways of being in the world. At a point in their life where they felt helpless, useless, and beyond hope, they were being presented with a challenging invitation to engage actively and radically with their experience.

7 Fifty-two of the participants reported that where they had felt helpless and ashamed in the face of their fragility, they now used breathing exercises as a coping tool and were better able to manage their moods. After mindfulness training they reported that they were aware, present, and able to respond to their daily struggles, both physically and emotionally. Overall, within themes ranging from mood management to openness and acceptance most of the participants reported heightened feelings of well-being and a greater focus and appreciation of the present. Some gained a more holistic sense of themselves. A majority of the participants felt a turning toward their experience and more connected to their physical and emotional states.

Parallel Mindfulness Training for Parents and Children with Attention/ Impulsivity Problems Concomitant parent and child mindfulness training appears to be a promising approach for adolescents with a range of disorders including attention deficithyperactivity disorder, oppositional-defiant and/or conduct disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. The overlap between these three disorders may be partially explained by common underlying attention and behavior control deficits. In 2008, fourteen clinically referred adolescents suffering from externalizing disorders underwent eight weeks of mindfulness training. Concurrently, their parents underwent an eight-week program for mindful parenting.

The adolescents self-reported substantial improvement on personal goals, internalizing and externalizing complaints, attention problems, happiness, and mindful awareness, and performed better on a sustained attention test.

Likewise, parents reported improvement on their child’s goals, externalizing and attention problems, self-control, attunement to others and withdrawal. In addition, parents improved on their own goals.

Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Children In another study reported in the Journal of Applied School Psychology, a formative evaluation of whether participation in mindfulness training could effect first, second, and third grade students' outcomes on measures of 8 attention. The training was designed to increase the student’s capacity to focus and sustain attention. The 24-week program used a series of exercises including awareness of the breath, body scanning, and meditative movement activities.

Results using three different measuring parameters revealed significant differences between those who did and did not participate in mindfulness practice training. This formative evaluation resulted in recommendations for future work in this developing field of interest.

Background Resources:

Shapiro, S., and L. Carlson. 2009. The Art and Science of Mindfulness: Integrating

Mindfulness intro Psychology and the Helping Professions. Washington, D.C.:

American Psychological Association.

Fraser, A. (ed.). 2013. The Healing Power of Meditation: Leading Experts on Buddhism, Psychology, and Medicine Explore the Health Benefits of Contemplative Practice.

Boulder, CO: Shambhala.

Bögels, S. et al. 2008. Mindfulness Training for Adolescents with Externalizing

Disorders and Their Parents. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapy 38(2):


Napoli, M. et al. 2005. Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students:

The Attention Academy. Journal of Applied School Psychology 21(1): 99-125.

Mindfulness in the Classroom 2.


Mindfulness-based training in education, which is also referred to as contemplative pedagogy, has proven to greatly improve the education experience and well-being of both students and teachers. This assertion is being increasingly supported by scientific research reported in peer-reviewed journals.

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