Thursday, 9 January 2014

Can't Believe It; Meditation and the Classroom...

(photo from eScienceCommons)

By Jason B.R. Maxwell
Curtin University Student

I didn’t believe it. Nah, no way…  Yet this wasn’t the fact that our regular terminator-jawed teacher was away for the day. No, this was the fact that in one of those mass-produced, shoebox classrooms, there shoved up back of our country Victorian school in Yea, we were all quiet. Yes there with the summers cow-paddock haze coming into the open windows, the whole afternoon year 8 class, rowdy as bay 13 was now meditating. There was no spit-balling, no names, no hideous  obnoxious jokes, for once  I  felt safe, there was  nothing but    the sound of breathing and the gentle music  and calm voice coming from one of  those bulky  grey  Sony  CD  players prolific in the nineties.  
If you’ve ever taught in a primary or secondary situation you may end up asking, so who  was  this miracle working emergency teacher and  when  can she come work this miracle for me? Like some pseudo mystic, I’m afraid I’m going to have to say that the answer was not some super-powered psychologist/hypnotist/teacher, although she had the good sense to briefly step out of the usual  monotonous curriculum that turns normal 15 year olds into howling demons on ‘those days’.

No. The answer is called Mental Silence. 

Granted, my experience back in 1997 was probably called something different, but today, the essence is the same, it’s the ‘new’ weapon in a schools arsenal to combat a lack of classroom concentration. Yes, with the help of the head of Sydney University’s Meditation research program, Dr Ramesh Monacha, schools are coming around to the old idea.   With   his book ‘Silence your Mind’,  and many eye-brow raising, peer reviewed research   papers,  he   tells  of    the benefits  of  Sahaja  meditation, where the goal  is  to  achieve a more peaceful and therefore healthy and elastic mind.
 But with my mind  and  for  the 22.2  per  cent  of  Australians declaring no religion in the last census, I’m  going   to   say  no, you don’t have to be religious to believe in this practice. Sahaja meditation sounds very hindu-kesh, code word for complete placebo balony, but what comes with Dr Monacha’s angle is some serious, non-sectarian, evidence-based research. Dr Monacha defines, with clinical standard experiments, the most beneficial meditation as the experience of ‘mental silence’.  What he calls in a podcast with Nightlife on the ABC “turning off the monkey chatter”. In his demonstrations he encourages affirmations such as “I am the pure silence” and boasts of 10 per cent of students achieving complete Mental Silence on the first try.

But some of the most impressive results go beyond simple volume control. What comes out of Dr Monacha’s University level data is that meditation improves the bodies self-regulation and hence the bodies reactions to things like inflammation, Asthma and Epilepsy, it improves mental health; improving the the release of happy hormone oxytocin and conditions such as depression and ADHD, and even the big one; social health - through awareness, reducing the bully - victim cycles in schools. 

Now if you’re a teacher reading this I’m sure I don’t need to say that this is golden news. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that in the current Australian classroom, mental and social health are in a serious situation.  Beyond Blue reports 1 in 4 people between 16-24 experience depression, Census data shows 7 per cent of 0-17 year olds are diagnosed with a disorder, and anxiety in our teaching population? The Sydney Morning Herald claims that “School teachers in NSW are making more than 800 compensation claims a year for stress-related injuries”. Here “unacceptably high” seems to be a little bit of an understatement.

Of course, many schools are trying to stem this tide through meditation on their own. One of which is Sacred  Heart Primary in Sydney where  they  had  40 volunteer students on the first go and great results concerning thought sequencing and class concentration.  At Climatech in Adelaide, assistant Principle Sue Nixon is also receiving positive feedback - that it’s great for exam preparation and how students are easier to settle.  She even had a boy come up to her at a school camp and say “I don’t feel pathetic in side anymore.”

Thus the question has to be asked; if there is proven, curriculum savvy methods available to us, then why aren’t we implementing these techniques structurally? Doing research for this paper, the search results for “meditation” in the Victorian Department of Education website turned up only three minor results for the word ‘meditation’. In their Mental Health section it isn’t mentioned once.  Here ‘unacceptably ignorant’ comes to mind.

Especially since there was positive data in the 80’s.

Personally, paradoxically, I really can’t answer this question without expletive poetry. However, for your sanity and mine, I’ll save you the extensive ramble. For one thing IS for sure, if Dr Monacha and others passionate about this amazing classroom tool have any part in it, the main stream WILL be coming around sooner or later. And having experienced it myself, I believe our children of the future will have something to look forward to…

Works Cited

Australian Bureau of Statistics. Who Are Australians older people?; Stories from 2011      Census. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 12th Dec. 2012. Web. 23rd Dec 2013.

________________________. Mental Health in Australia: A Snapshot, 2004-05. Australian          Bureau of Statistics. 30th Aug. 2013. Web. 23rd Dec. 2013.

Beyond Blue. Young People. Beyond Blue; Depression, Anxiety. N.d. Web. 23rd Dec. 2013.
Delroy, Tony. Nightlife; The Science of Meditation Podcast. ABC local. 6th Aug. 2013. Web.           23rd Dec. 2013.

Manocha, Dr. Ramesh. Meditation, mindfulness and mind-emptiness. Acta           Neuropsychiatrica. 23: 46–47. 2011. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-5215.2010.00519.

Patty, Anna. Ed. Conflicting views on teachers' stress claims. Sydney Morning Herald. 8th             May. 2007. Web. 23rd Dec. 2013.

Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Search Results. Victorian               Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Web. 23rd Dec. 2013.

eScienceCommons. Can meditation calm your kids?. N.d. Web. 23rd Dec. 2013.

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