April 17, 2012

Teens and Meditation

Why some schools are going Zen.

Jessica: Everybody knows teenagers can get loud. So it might surprise you to see this: a classroom of teenagers sitting blissfully silent. These are students from the Humanities Preparatory Academy in New York. They are doing something called “mindfulness meditation” and they say they like it.

“It most definitely chills out your body and you’re in perspective.”

Jessica: I was intrigued enough to check it out for myself.

I am about to take this meditation class right now and I have no idea what to expect. I have done yoga but I know it is different. And right now I am going to try to get in the zone.

“Before I took this class I was always tired, sleeping in class, late papers and forgetting stuff. Now my mind is relaxed. I can focus more.

“I realize when I meditate I’m not as hyper and don’t want to get in as many fights. It calms you down. It’s nice.”

Jessica: What is meditation?

“Meditation is about being in the present moment.”

Jessica: Some of the first records of meditation come from hindu religious traditions over 5,000 years ago. Since then, people have practiced different styles in many faiths. Studies have shown Tibetan Buddhist monks can actually raise their own body temperature during intense meditation.

It may sound a little new age but meditation has been catching on among young people across the country. This has been fueled by an explosion of cutting edge science that shows its benefits.

“I think meditation can be really valuable for young people because it helps on so many different levels.”

Jessica: Researcher Britta Holzel has found that meditating for just eight weeks can actually rewire your brain.

Britta Holzel: We put people in this MRI scanner to take pictures of their brain.

Jessica: Using a machine like this, she scanned people’s brains before and after eight weeks of meditating. Those who meditated developed more density in the part of the brain associated with learning and they had less density in the part associated with stress.

Researcher Catherine Kerr found the part of the brain that filters out unneeded sensory information works better after meditation.

Catherine Kerr: I do think this could be a really helpful way to manage information and reduce the stress of too much information.

Jessica: Kerr leads a group of busy medical school students who say meditating helps them focus.

“You have a lot of obligations outside of school so it’s nice to just narrow it down to when you’re studying, study.”

Jessica: But there has been some controversy over meditation in schools because of its religious background. Those at Humanities Prep say their classes fit, even in a public school.

“For me, I look at it as a cultural tradition that’s being offered to our students. It’s coming from a certain cultural context but it has implications for everyone and it can be very secular as well.”

“Religious values have nothing to do with meditating, keeping up with your body. It’s like going to the doctor.”

Jessica: School administrators say since starting the meditation classes, they have seen better grades and better behavior from their students.

“We haven’t had a physical fight since the program began.”

“It’s been good for me because it helps you relax. It helps you show compassion because it gets you out of your mood.”

Jessica: One class probably wasn’t enough to rewire my brain, though I did briefly get in the zone.

Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.


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