Once unheard of in Western culture and confined to the far East, meditation is now praised by the scientific community and taught in classrooms as both a stress-coping technique and a means to a more peaceful and spiritual state of being.
Recently, several Palo Alto High School teachers have begun leading short meditation sessions in their classrooms for the benefit of students. In the wake of recent tragedies within the Palo Alto Unified School District, many teachers see meditation as a productive method of easing students’ stress loads. Stress is commonly cited by students, parents and publications, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, as a leading cause of teen depression in Palo Alto.
“We started doing meditation the Monday following this semester’s suicide,” social studies teacher Alexander Davis says. “I was frustrated because I didn’t feel comfortable continuing with the curriculum and business as usual, but I wasn’t sure how to address the suicide or how to talk about it in a meaningful way.”
Davis is not alone. Psychology teacher Christopher Farina says that he also began including a mindfulness meditation practice in his curriculum in response to suicide.
“I decided to begin using mindfulness after the most recent suicide at Gunn,” Farina says. “I originally thought that it would be a nice opportunity for students to slow down their thoughts … and to think about something they were grateful for.”
For students, meditation offers a multitude of benefits, including a welcome break from the nose-numbing monotony of the school day.
“It [meditation] helps me relax,” says senior Alex Ruff, who enters a three-to-five minute meditation three times a week in Melinda Mattes’s Advanced Placement Psychology class. “It’s fun to try to concentrate on just breathing and to see how well I can control my mind.”
Paly astrophysics teacher and Science Dept. Instructional Supervisor Josh Bloom, who incorporates regular meditation into his class curriculum, agrees that meditation is beneficial.
“It helps prepare me to face the challenges of the day with a calm and clear mind and helps cleanse me of the day’s stresses before I come home to my family,” Bloom says. “When I practice meditation regularly, I manage my stress, keep my mind healthy and keep myself healthy. When I don’t, I feel more stressed and less healthy.”
Bloom’s personal experience is supported by scientific evidence. The Mayo Clinic reports that meditation does indeed calm the meditator and benefits both their emotional well-being and overall health.
Bloom says that he only recently discovered meditation as a means to improving his well-being.
“I was introduced to mindfulness and meditation a few years ago when I was working through some very difficult and stressful circumstances in my life,” Bloom says. “The practice was simple and powerful. It immediately improved the quality of my life and my ability to face challenges.”
Teachers say that feedback regarding in-class meditation and mindfulness has been overwhelmingly positive, both from students and their parents.
“Almost all of my classes have opted to continue with this practice,” Farina says. “It’s beneficial for mental and physical health, it helps students begin the class with a renewed sense of focus, and it only costs five minutes of our time.” v