One practice that has gained significant attention and recognition is mindfulness and meditation. With its potential to enhance mental health, improve focus, and promote overall well-being, mindfulness programs in schools are gaining traction as a powerful tool for empowering young learners.
In this blog post, we'll explore how mindfulness can empower students in schools, backed by scientific studies and real-life examples.
Unveiling the impact of mindfulness in children and teens
Mindfulness, which started as an ancient practice, has seen a remarkable surge in popularity across the world. People are increasingly recognizing its potential to cultivate self-awareness, reduce stress, and enhance overall mental well-being.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the number of adults practicing meditation has seen a significant increase from 4.1% to 14.2% between 2012 and 2017 . Additionally, 5.4% of children between the ages of 4-17 have also embraced meditation as a valuable practice . These statistics demonstrate the growing interest and importance of mindfulness in our society.
As an increasing number of schools incorporate mindfulness into their practices, a pertinent question arises – does mindfulness benefit children and teens? Can mindfulness programs equip children with the necessary resilience and emotional self-awareness to thrive in an increasingly stressful world?
The benefits of mindfulness in schools for children and teens
One of the main benefits of mindfulness is stress relief, which is especially important given the high levels of harmful stress that kids and teens experience today. Prolonged exposure to stress, especially stemming from adverse childhood events (ACEs) like poverty, domestic violence, and abuse, can significantly impact brain function, overall health, and long-term well-being.
Research indicates that chronic stress can shrink the hippocampus, impairing learning and memory abilities. It also affects the amygdala, responsible for processing fearful stimuli and triggering our survival response, as well as the frontal cortex, which plays a crucial role in learning, memory, attention, impulse control, decision-making, and executive function. 
Studies focusing on meditation have revealed its potential to alleviate the impacts of stress. Notably, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar discovered that engaging in mindful activities resulted in a remarkable phenomenon: a reduction in amygdala size. Furthermore, meditation was found to enhance the size of the left hippocampus and improve cortical thickness, among other notable transformations. 
In the pursuit of incorporating mindfulness into the classroom, innovative tools like the Muse 2 Headband and the Muse S Headband have emerged as a valuable resources for teens. These headbands provide unique features that enhance the mindfulness experience for highschool students.
The Muse 2 Headband and the Muse S Headband measure brain activity, heart rate, and other body signals, providing immediate feedback to help students meditate more deeply and reach a relaxed, focused state.
Research on mindfulness in schools for teens and adolescents
Study: Mindfulness Practice with a Brain-Sensing Device Improved Cognitive Functioning of Elementary School Children
The recent surge in interest around mindfulness in schools has led to numerous studies investigating its impact on students' cognitive performance. One such study, conducted using the Muse EEG-headband, revealed significant improvements in children's attention regulation and cognitive performance.
The study found that during the course of the technology-supported mindfulness training, which spanned 8 sessions, children improved by 8% on average at being in a calm/focused state from the first to the last mindfulness session.
Moreover, the study showed a significant linear effect of time regarding the longer and deeper focused states, with children showing 1.5 more birds (a market of a focused state measured by Muse’s biofeedback algorithm) per minute on average during the last session than in the first. This suggests an increase in the lower frequency alpha and theta brain waves during the training, indicating a relaxed yet focused mind state.This improvement in cognitive flexibility is a testament to the effectiveness of mindfulness practices in enhancing children's ability to shift their attention effectively.
The study also indicated a linear effect of time regarding the change of neutral states during the mindfulness training, with a 9% mean decrease from the first session to the last session. This suggests that children were becoming more engaged and less neutral as the sessions progressed.
Perhaps one of the most significant findings was the increase in the number of recovery stars per minute, which showed a significant increase from the first to the last session, with a mean of 5.8 recovery stars per minute increase. This suggests that the children improved in recognizing mind-wandering states and redirecting their attention to their breathing, a key aspect of mindfulness practice.
Another study highlighted the impact of using Muse in a middle school setting. The study involved a diverse group of students, with 54 percent coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and 40 percent identifying as minorities. The results were striking - after incorporating Muse into their routine, the students saw a significant reduction in office referrals. The average number of referrals decreased from 6.33 to just 1.78, marking a 72% decrease.  This suggests that meditation, facilitated by tools like a Muse EEG headset, can have a profound impact on student behavior.
These findings highlight the potential of mindfulness in schools to improve children's attention regulation and cognitive flexibility, providing them with essential tools to navigate their academic and personal lives more effectively.
Other study findings on the benefits of mindfulness in children include:
- Mental Health: A meta-analysis of 17 randomized control studies indicates that mindfulness-based interventions have a substantial positive impact on mindfulness, depression, anxiety and stress levels in children. Furthermore, smaller yet still beneficial effects could be observed in executive functioning, negative behavior, and attention. 
- Cognitive Ability and Focus: A study published in the Journal of Applied School Psychology implemented a mindfulness program spanning 24 weeks for students in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades. The results demonstrated significant improvements in selective attention, test anxiety, and classroom behaviour compared to students not participating in the mindfulness group, as rated by the teachers. 
- Physical Health: A study featured in The American Journal of Hypertension focused on African-American teens and found that Transcendental Meditation (TM) effectively reduced high blood pressure. Over a four-month period, teens practicing TM for 15 minutes twice a day experienced improvements in daytime blood pressure levels compared to non-meditating participants 
A note on the available research
While there's plenty of adult mindfulness research, studies focusing on teenagers are fewer. Also, many existing studies are small and larger studies would help confirm and strengthen their positive results.
It is crucial to recognize that mindfulness and meditation may not be suitable for everyone. Adolescents with conditions such as schizophrenia, severe anxiety, or a history of ACEs should approach these practices with caution, as they may evoke traumatic experiences.
Schools adopting mindfulness meditation programs
Mindfulness programs have been part of schools for years, but worries about religious influence have slowed their adoption.
Non-profit groups such as Mindful Schools, MindUP for Life, and CARE for Teachers have created non-religious programs. This makes mindfulness and meditation available to all students and teachers, no matter their religion. The primary goal is to harness the potential of mindfulness and meditation within educational settings.
Over the past two decades, schools worldwide have adopted mindfulness in various ways to support teachers and students alike.
Eastern Senior High School in Washington, DC
Eastern is among several high schools across the United States that have introduced mindfulness programs to help students navigate their emotions, reduce stress, and improve decision-making.
One student, Yarnetta Leonard (17), shares her experience, stating that the mindfulness class has helped her manage difficult emotions during a challenging period of relocating to live with her biological mother after the death of her caretaker. Yarnetta expresses, “coming here, being in a space where I can just think instead of retaliate and be mad and be sad — I can think of my actions and do better for myself.” 
Robert Coleman Elementary in Baltimore, MD
Rather than resorting to traditional detention, Robert Coleman Elementary implements the "Mindful Moment" room. The room, covered in an explosion of color with tie-dye fabrics and purple bean bags, is meant to provide a space where students feel comfortable exploring their feelings and what happened without judgment or punishment.
When entering the room, students are encouraged to discuss what happened, followed by engaging in breathing exercises, yoga, or relaxing games. The school reports a significant reduction in suspensions since the implementation of the "Mindful Moment" room. 
Check out our latest podcast episode with Robert Coleman Elementary here
Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse in Detroit, MI
The Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse has integrated mindfulness as a core element of its curriculum since 1998. Research conducted by Rita Benn, the director of education at the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan, highlights the positive effects of mindfulness on students. At this elementary and middle school, both students and school teachers practice Transcendental Meditation twice daily.
Benn found that compared to non-meditating students at another Detroit school, Nataki Talibah students displayed higher levels of happiness, better stress management, improved self-esteem, and enhanced peer relationships. 
Momentous School in Dallas, TX
For two decades, Momentous School has been accumulating significant data on the positive effects of mindfulness activities. Students like four-year-old Faith have learned the power of deep breathing in enhancing clarity of thought. Faith shares her experience, stating, "I was trying to match some letters and I got really frustrated and I needed to take a deep breath and I almost got it. I almost got it by myself and I felt just a little happy.”
The school's efforts demonstrate how mindfulness practices can help even young children improve their cognitive abilities and emotional well-being. 
Chatsworth Elementary School in Larchmont, NY
Chatsworth Elementary is another institution where teachers incorporate mindfulness-based activities to help students understand and regulate their emotions.
For instance, Liz Slade’s kindergarten class. In an article for Mindful.org, Liz sets the scene for a typical day with her students. As they returned from recess, chattering and giggling, Slade asked, “Can today’s mindful leader please come up front and begin?”. A 6-year old student, Isabella, calmly walked to the front of the room and sat down facing her peers.
Isabella laid her palms face up on her knees and slowly began to tap her thumb to each of her fingers, repeating “I-am-calm-now” alongside each tap. Her classmates joined in, all repeating the phrase and tapping their fingers. They grew quieter and quieter with each repetition, until the room was silent. Slade then asked them to write about their feelings in their “feelings” journal.
In Slade’s words, her students are “learning the experience of settling their body.” What used to be a wild time now becomes a charming, sweet moment when we can all take a pause and come back to being present.” 
Conclusion: empowering adolescents through mindfulness
Mindfulness in education is becoming more important as young people face growing challenges. Current research suggests that mindfulness can improve students' mental and emotional health, brain focus, and productivity.
By including mindfulness in schools, we give the next generation tools to handle stress, increase self-awareness, and build resilience. Success stories from schools using mindfulness show its power to improve students' well-being and academic performance.
Let's make mindfulness a key part of education to foster the holistic growth of young minds. Consider using tools like the Muse 2 Headband and the Muse S Headband to enhance mindfulness in high school classrooms.
Tune into the latest Untangle episode on the power of mindfulness in schools with Andrés González, Ali Smith, and Atman Smith:
- Read the CDC’s 2018 report on meditation and mindfulness in adults HERE >>
- Explore the CDC’s 2018 report on meditation and mindfulness for kids HERE >>
- Discover Mindful.org’s article on best practices for integrating mindfulness at school HERE >>
- Read Mindful.org’s article on why mindfulness in the classroom HERE >>
- Learn about the effects of chronic stress on the brain HERE >>
- Read Sara Lazar’s study on how meditation changes structures in our brain HERE >>
- Explore the meta-analysis of meditation’s impact on children’s cognition and mental health HERE >>
- Discover the effects of a 24-week mindfulness program on children HERE >>
- Learn about the impact of Transcendental Meditation on adolescents with high blood pressure HERE >>
- Read Vox’s article on the evidence for mindfulness meditation for adolescents HERE >>
- Explore the New York Times article on whether meditation helps students HERE >>
- Examine the effects of a mindfulness-based intervention using a neurofeedback device on middle school children HERE >>