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I first came across Buddhist mindfulness meditation at 18, when visiting Nepal between A Levels and university to teach English.
After acquainting myself with the practice, and experiencing the hugely beneficial effect it had on reducing the stress and anxiety I had at the time, I immediately questioned why I hadn’t been taught it while at school.
That planted the seed for what would eventually follow. After completing my training, I subsequently took up teaching Buddhist meditation. Schools would often visit the Buddhist Centre where I was based, usually as part of an RE trip, to learn about the life of Buddha.
Over the course of their visit these coachloads of kids also had the opportunity to learn about essential breathing meditation, and it was immediately clear how positively they responded.
Around 10 years ago, I set up Mindspace as a way to take what I’d learned to a wider audience, visiting schools and bringing meditation techniques to children’s attention.
In the years since then I’ve always found some level of receptivity to the idea among school leaders and decision-makers, but it’s increasingly come to the forefront of people’s minds now, given the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Introducing meditation and mindfulness into schools in a sustainable way ultimately requires getting teachers to come on board.
However well-intentioned a decisionmaker at a school or trust might be, however motivated they are by the mental health needs of children, it won’t work without the school’s teachers getting fully behind it.
What can happen is that it becomes just another stressor for teachers – ‘How am I meant to squeeze in meditation sessions on top of everything else I have to do?’
Schools that have used meditation successfully generally follow the principle that all related activities are very much ‘opt in’, for both students and staff, for the simple reason that meditation always works better if the individuals partaking in it actually want to be there.
That’s why we’ll initially provide schools with a general introduction or taster session to which both students and staff are invited and see how many attend.
Once you’ve discovered how large your ‘core group’ is, it gives you something to build on. In most of the successful implementations I’ve seen, schools will provide meditation sessions via clubs held during lunch or after school.
I’ve also seen positive examples where teachers have presented mindful meditation techniques in quite an informal and relaxed way, drawing on techniques and methods that they use themselves at various points during their working day.
That’s a message I’ll often emphasise to teachers – that if you want to pass these meditation techniques on to your students, it’s best for you to practice them yourselves.
Of course, another key challenge with introducing schools to meditation is that everyone is often very busy, so that even if they’re keen to reduce their community’s stress levels and improve levels of mental health, they’ll want to do so as quickly as possible.
My approach – not necessarily a popular one – is to instead encourage staff to take a more long-term view of how their school can benefit from meditation.
That may involve envisaging what the school’s mediation practice will look like in two, five or even 10 years. Many people will look to mediation as a quick fix to help address challenging personal behaviours, stress, anxiety and other issues.
On the contrary, however, a school’s use of meditation will only be successful and remain sustainable if it’s allowed to grow organically over time.
Gradual, organic growth is fundamental to the way meditation works.
Adam Dacey is the founder and director of Mindspace and was speaking to Callum Fauser; for more information, visit meditationinschools.org or follow @mindspaceuk.
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