An Open Letter to Teachers, Re: Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation (Part 1)

yoga

Image: Christina Bhattacharya, Creative Commons

By Tina Olesen

I understand what it’s like to want a calm, quiet classroom. It seems that more teachers than ever are struggling to bring peace to their classroom environment. There seem to be more and more unfocussed, hyper, stressed, reactive, anxious, emotionally disturbed children in our schools.

Counsellors and psychologists tell us that it’s the state of the world we’re in that is making kids stressed. Bombings, shootings, climate change… any number of daily news headlines are pointed to as a cause for anxiety.

A recent article proposed that meditation is a solution for “how to feel safe in a scary world.” Increasingly people are turning to eastern religious practices such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation for anxiety relief. These practices are being brought into our schools, supposedly being stripped of their religious trappings, but in actuality it’s only re-branding that is happening.

“So what?” you may ask. “As long as the kids are calmer and happier, that’s all that matters.” Really?

The long term repercussions of practicing yoga, mindfulness and meditation are rarely discussed, because the immediate benefits seem so attractive. Besides, these practices are endorsed by celebrities who also fundraise for grants to have universities study their effectiveness and get them into schools. Some educators try these techniques out themselves and they feel great, so they jump on the bandwagon.

Here’s what’s being overlooked in all the hoopla:

  • Introducing children to yoga, mindfulness, and meditation can change their worldview and value system over time, to a Hindu or Buddhist worldview. The practices in and of themselves, whether the religious language is used or not, can subtly over time change a person’s way of looking at the world and responding to life.[i]
  • While these practices might be introduced in schools on a superficial level, they are initiating children into a lifestyle.[ii] Many adults have experienced negative consequences with these practices, such as long term mental and emotional problems.[iii]
  • When transcendental meditation was experimented with in the sixties and seventies, children were mentally and emotionally harmed, and the alarm was sounded.[iv] We seem to have forgotten all about that.
  • These practices injure the children’s consciences, training them not to judge their thoughts as right or wrong (“non-judgmental awareness”) interfering with moral development.

Swiss philosopher Amiel said, “The test of every religious, political, or educational system is the man which it forms. If a system injures the intelligence it is bad. If it injures the character it is vicious. If it injures the conscience it is criminal.”

We as teachers are up against a lot of limitations. We do not have control over our students’ home environments – what they watch on TV, what video games they play, what (or if) they eat, what time they go to bed, how they are disciplined (or not), what they look at on the internet, etc. and yet these things impact the classroom everyday.

We do not dictate the school budget, the curriculum, our class size, whether or not we have an aide, school discipline policies, etc. We may have input, but we do not have the final say; yet we have to live with the consequences of others’ decisions. All that can lead in some situations to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.

I think that’s why yoga and meditation can be so attractive to teachers, because it promises to give them control over the classroom environment; the illusion that they can make it the peaceful place that they want it to be.

It’s a lot easier to implement mindfulness than to try to address the brokenness of our society. Broken homes, broken families, broken school system… insurmountable difficulties that many think are better meditated away. But the thing is, they really don’t go away. It’s just an illusion.

A psychologist and the author of “The Buddha Pill” stated about his own experience with meditation:

“…it had been taking up quite a chunk of my time, often between two and three hours a day. More than releasing or peaceful, it was deeply pleasurable… Coming out of the meditation, I often felt I was hovering above reality and everyday concerns. Despite being able to control or even feel unattached from negative feelings – anger, sadness or frustration – I was shocked to find that, sometimes, this lack of attachment made me less sensitive and empathetic to other people’s feelings. It was only when a friend joked that I was becoming a ‘meditation junkie’ that the penny dropped. He was right; meditation was turning into a way of bypassing real life, or of at least avoiding the parts of it that were difficult or bitter. I had decided then to drastically reduce my practice.” (emphasis mine)

“The Buddha pill” is merely an escape from reality.

So, how do we really help children feel safe in a scary world? How do we help them to cope with reality, rather than escape from it?

Stay tuned for my next post…

 

 

 

[i] See Dr. Candy Gunther Brown’s article: “…sociological research suggests that people who begin practicing yoga for its physical benefits gradually come to adopt yoga philosophy, causing them to change their religious worldviews.”

[ii] See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/candy-gunther-brown-phd/mindfulness-stealth-buddh_b_6243036.html

[iii] Meditation: Adverse Effects. Brown University Medical School, Dr. Willoughby Britton. Video presentation with power point at http://vimeo.com/18819660   and also at http://vimeo.com/28170617

[iv]  “In 76% of cases psychological disorders and illnesses occurred…” from The Various Implications Arising from the Practice of Transcendental Meditation: An empirical analysis of pathogenic structures as an aid in counseling. Bensheim, Germany: Institute for Youth and Society. Retrieved from http://www.minet.org/Documents/German-Study