Massachusetts, U.S—Research by MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research highlights benefits of meditation for school stress. [READ: Meditation For Stress]

A neuroscience study conducted by MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research has shown that mindfulness meditation reduces stress in schools. A school-based mindfulness intervention can significantly reduce perceived stress and modulate brain activity in the brain region associate with fear.

Perceived stress is the individual’s perception of how much stress they are under at a specific time.

Study Highlights Importance Of Meditation For School Stress

Clemens C.C. Bauer [study author, postdoctoral associate, MIT] told THE DAILY MEDITATION that the research was inspired by his current clinical practice. He states that he has seen many times how an individual’s state of mind was key to their wellbeing, something he has witnessed as a Maxico-based doctor. “I believe the mind states proceed biological states more than was previously thought.”

Here, Bauer refers to the body-mind, and the idea that the state of the mind and the body influence one another. Research has previously revealed that the way we hold our body, such as through body language, can have a large influence on state of mind, and our thoughts and feelings also influence our biological state.

In the research, 99 sixth graders were evaluated based on functional resonance imaging of the brain to highlight their levels of stress. Half the group was given mindfulness training, from the non-profit Calmer Choice, every day for eight weeks, the other half were given lessons in computer coding. The mindful program focused on breath awareness and present-moment mindfulness.

Researchers measured amygdala activity while the test participants looked at faces showing different emotions. Prior to being given the mindfulness or programming training, it was shown that those students who had higher levels of stress also had more amygdala activity when looking at images of faces with fearful expressions.

After the eight week period, the group of students who had been given mindfulness training reported less perceived stress and also had less right amygdala activation when looking at faces with fearful expressions. They also had increased amygdala connectivity with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex has connections to brain regions associated with emotional processing. Activation in the right amygdala is associated with negative emotions such as fear and sadness.

Therefore, by reducing right-activation and increasing amygdala connectivity with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the mindfulness training program essentially helped students reduced fear and increase emotional processing.

This is yet more research highlighting the importance of teaching mindfulness in schools.

Bauer tells us that this is the first research of its kind to provide evidence of “an amygdala neural mechanism related to stress reduction following mindfulness training.” In particular, the research highlight how mindfulness can reduce emotional response to negative stimuli, such as looking at angry or fearful faces.

Bauer tells us that the research suggests that that “mindfulness training recalibrates the automatic and unconscious response to fear, which leads to a ubiquitous resilience to stress.” Bauer does state, however, that in order to substantiate the findings the research would need to be conducted on a larger scale. In particular, further research is required to test how long these effects will last.

Bauer states that it is important for schools to recognise that mindfulness is not a spiritual practice. Although it is linked to Eastern philosophy, which is one reason why many schools have clamped down on meditation and yoga [READ: Yoga Reduces School Anxiety], it is important to realise that mindfulness can be practiced in a non-religious way.

This study was first published in Behavioural Neuroscience.


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Written by Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.