Top Two Reasons to Bridge Neuroscience
and Mindfulness Skills
1) Cutting edge neuroscience research justifies why it is important to slow down and practice mindfulness skills for ourselves and with our children.
Living in our fast-paced, multi-tasking, technological society can create undue stress and disconnect us from ourselves and from the world around us. The increase of stress and isolation, for both adults and children, often results in reactive behaviors that create unhealthy patterns. As an antidote, research confirms that practicing mindfulness literally changes the brain in ways that facilitate awareness, self-regulation, and social engagement.
Each time we focus on our breath, pay attention to our senses, notice our internal states, or pause before reacting to stressful situations, neural pathways form to build strong "mindfulness muscles."
Understanding our potential to become more focused and calm inspires us to practice mindfulness in order to break free from our brain's reactive patterns and unhealthy habits. A growing body of research indicates that mindfulness can reduce stress, improve mental and physical health, enhance well-being and the quality of relationships, and improve effectiveness.
Empirically supported benefits of mindfulness:
American Psychological Association
2) To avoid assumptions and damaging controversy, it is essential to communicate brain-based reasons for using mindfulness practices in the public sector.
Mindfulness education in the public sector is not a religious approach. It is a secular practice that enhances all people's capacity to be peaceful, caring, capable, and responsible individuals, regardless of religious affiliations. Educators, child-care providers, and others who work with children are wise to be proactive and communicate brain-based explanations of mindfulness practices to families and administrators. With the use of simple language, these explanations can also be shared with children, who are typically fascinated by learning about the brain. This information helps children understand why mindfulness is important and encourages them to become more intentional when practicing.
After all, there is a world of difference between a child coming home from school and saying, "We closed our eyes and practiced breathing today" and saying, ”We took some deep breaths to calm our brains before our test today.” The first description risks some parents jumping to the conclusion their children are being indoctrinated with religious teachings. The second explanation relates to preparing the children for successful achievement.
Calming Ourselves in Stressful Moments™
Calming Ourselves in Stressful Moments™ is the first in a series of Mindfulness Education 4 Life™ programs. This program helps children, ages 3–8, develop a basic foundation in mindfulness skills in order to manage stress. The program provides clear, simple, accurate connections between neuroscience research (the "why") and mindfulness skills and practices (the "how").
The following anecdote illustrates how one child came to understand that his reactive brain triggered fights on the playground. As a result, he interrupted this negative pattern himself!
I had been volunteering in a classroom once a month to present a lesson on the brain along with calming strategies.
Matt, a young boy who was often in trouble for fighting, approached me excitedly. "Ms. Tennant! Ms. Tennant! That bell went off in my head!" Puzzled, I asked him what he meant. "You know, the bell that goes off and makes you feel like fighting. I heard that bell, and instead of hitting Jacob, I stopped, took a deep breath, and walked away."
The previous month's lesson had been about stress reactions. We learned how an area in the brain, the amygdala, acts as an alarm system that shifts us into our "survival brain's" reaction of fight or flight. I showed the students a brain diagram and a picture of an alarm bell. We talked about recognizing our body's stress signals and making the choice to stop and breathe. I explained how this helps put our "thinking brains" back in charge so we can choose a more thoughtful way to respond.
Matt made the profound realization that he wasn't at the mercy of his reactive brain's impulses. He had the power to choose response-ably.
Click on Heart Stories© for more anecdotes.
"By developing the ability to focus our attention on our internal world, we are picking up a 'scalpel' we can use to resculpt our neural pathways, stimulating the growth of areas of the brain that are crucial to mental health."
— Daniel Siegel
Mindsight: The New Science of
Personal Transformation, 2010
"I have taught mindfulness to deans of medical schools, to senior executives at major technology firms, and to MBA students from dozens of countries. When you explain step by step, how it works and how it effects your brain, and give people a chance to experience it, even the most cynical, anti- self-awareness agitator can't help but see that they will be better off practicing this skill. The key is to be able to explain the actual neuroscience involved."
— David Rock
The Neuroscience of Mindfulness,
Psychology Today, October, 2011
"Awareness of the brain’s stress reactions empowers a person with the choice to become more calm, focused, and response-able. Even young children can understand some important basics about the way the brain works, recognize their stress signals, and make more positive choices about how to act."
— Victoria Tennant
Calming Ourselves in
Stressful Moments, 2014