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“Learning under high stress and fear is literally ‘wrong-headed,’ as it is incompatible with what we know about how the brain works. Not only does stress interfere with functions such as attention, memory, organization, and integration, but prolonged stress actually kills brain cells and shrinks the brain’s main memory structures.”- Dr. William Stixrud (clinical neurologist)

Although the US school system has not changed much, the times that we face certainly have. Students face many outside stressors which they ultimately bring with them into the classroom. Currently 10 million American students take antidepressant medication and 4 million suffer from ADHD and other learning disorders. The question is: How do we address these outside stessors in schools?
There is currently a movement working to lower stress levels in schools by means of transcendental meditation. Transcendental Meditation (or TM) is a technique for gaining deep rest that brings balance to the body and mind. This is practiced 20 minutes a day sitting comfortably and repeating a mantra with eyes closed.  This practice is being integrated into many public schools and is showing positive results. The ultimate goal is to reduce stress, increase focus, and boost achievement. Many schools refer to this practice as “quiet time.”

“And if a child comes in and they’re stressed out, how do we expect them to learn?”  -George Rutherford Principal of Ideal Academy

Inner city schools are advocating for TM in particular to support children that come from backgrounds of high stress. Visitaticion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, California experienced excellent results with this program.  Visitacion Valley is the most economically isolated and violent area of the city. When the TM program was taught to 6th and 7th graders at this school, the suspension rate dropped 45 percent for those grades during the first year. Moreover, the overall GPA increased after the first year transcendental meditation was introduced.

“They come from broken homes, foster care and group home settings. This is a practice that helps them go back and face what they need to face. It’s a skill they take with them for the rest of their lives.”
– Brian Borsos, Special Education teacher at Visitacion Valley Middle School.

Another school that is practicing this meditation technique is Ideal Academy, a charter school located in Washington DC. Students from 5th through 12 grade along with all faculty and staff participate in TM at this school. During the 2005-2006 pilot project Ideal Academy noticed reductions in anxiety, emotional distress, suspension rates, and increased academic achievement.

Who is behind the funding of these initiatives? The David Lynch Foundation and the US Committee of Stress-Free Schools.
For More information on this organization, check out this video:

Now of course there are many people who object to this movement stating that it goes against the separation of church and state. Some people claim this type of meditation is a Hindu practice. However, TM enthusiasts state it is unrelated to religion and is a practice that offers physical and mental benefits the same as yoga or cardio. Moreover, they assert this form of meditation predates Hinduism by thousands of years.

All in all, is transcendental meditation a cure all, for public schools? Of course not! However, if it helps our students feel better about themselves and promotes healthy habits and ways of being then why not implement it? Let’s consider it another tool for effective instruction. According to the research I’ve come across, 20 minutes a day seems like a good investment to make in this practice. It helps students de-stress, refocus, and builds a sense of community within the school.
For more information on this topic visit the following links:

http://www.tmeducation.org/
http://www.mindfulschools.org/

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