A recent study done by the New York University College of Nursing found that after only 4 months of mindfulness training incarcerated boys between the ages of 16 and 18 improved their ability to pay attention and deal with social situations in positive way. This is the largest study yet on the effect of mindfulness training on young people and the researchers were working with boys who had experienced severe deprivation from poverty and abuse as children. The study participants learned to focus on their breathing and to take responsibility for their behaviors.
Rather than waiting until a young person is behind bars, mindfulness training is something parents and teachers can teach their children and students. For example, in a post on Tips from the Town a mother relates the effect of mindfulness training on a first grade class. Here are some wonderful books that will inspire and guide you.
Start with Ellen J. Langer's 1989 classic Mindfulness. She will convince you that being mindful can make an enormous difference in everyone's lives. In this book she describes experiments that demonstrate the power of the mind over the body.
Thich Nhat Hanh's Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life provides short vignettes and suggestions that give us ideas to mediate on and that offer ways to make mindfulness valued in our everyday lives. For example, he suggests, that since we have rooms for eating, sleeping, watching TV, perhaps we also need a room for breathing - what he calls an Embassy for the Kingdom of Peace - a place where no shouting or anger is allowed. A child being shouted at can go there and take refuge. A parent irritated by the noise of children can go there for quiet. After breakfast children can go to the Breathing Room and take 10 mindful breaths before heading for school. "Simple practices," Thich writes, "like conscious breathing and smiling are very important. They can change our civilization."
For children Thich Nhat Hanh has written two books. A Pebble for Your Pocket is a collection of teachings written in the form of examples, metaphors, stories of Buddha, and wise words. The second book is Mindful Movements which comes with a CD and is illustrated with engaging pictures of people of all ages and varieties performing the ten simple exercises he recommends. In this age of stressful testing, doing these exercises (all of which can be done standing in place) with our students before a lesson or test is one of the best gifts we can give our students.
Start being mindful today. Here is Thah Nhat Hanh's "Walking Mediation" from Pebble in Your Pocket. Recite it as people rush around you stressing out over end of semester testing, holiday shopping, and everyday worries. Relax. Smile and breathe...