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MINDFULNESS?

That magic ‘M’ word that seems to be popping everywhere you turn, from facebook feeds to TED talks, to your local news channels and now even being brought into your child’s classroom. The term ‘mindfulness’ is a word that has now become a global phenomenon; but what exactly is it and why has it become so popular?

The word mindfulness was a practice first cultivated around 500BC with the purpose to build a more acute sense of awareness by heightening the senses, bringing one’s attention to the present moment.  After years of research conducted by psychologists, neuroscientists and Dr’s, most famously Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts; the application of mindfulness, particularly at the early stages of a child’s brain development has been proven to be at its most beneficial ‘mindfulness was positively associated with cognitive and wellbeing measures’ (Salomon and Globerson,1987).

 

In short, mindfulness for children can be taught using a program of lessons referred to as ‘MINDFUL RELAXATION’.  ‘Change Your Mind’ delivers a series of eight courses, each lesson having the flexibility to be modified to suit a child’s own needs and personality. Through the use of imagination, strengthening of the five senses, development of peer to peer interaction and simple breathing exercises (to name a few), we use child’s play to provide children with the tools to be able to develop their own personal traits and acquired attributes such as:

 

CONFIDENCE      SELF-ESTEEM        KINDNESS         CREATIVITY         RESILENCE           COMMUNICATION          EMPATHY           SELF-AWARENESS

These lessons introduce and explore new facets of mindfulness, building upon the foundations of: intention, attention and attitude. As the course progresses, children learn to cultivate, gratitude, handling difficult thoughts and emotions, and finally being able to develop kindness towards themselves and each other.

 

WHAT'S THE OUTCOME?

Our mission is to provide a means for children to able to use these strategies to identify their own feelings such as nervousness, fear, sadness and anger, so that they can confidently ask for help when they need it instead of bottling it up inside, as well as being able to manage the ‘lighter’ parts of these emotions themselves. Mindfulness has proven to ‘bring about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioural regulation’ (Keng et al., 1987). 

Our long- term outcome for your child is that he/she will be able to apply our teachings throughout their life long journey into adulthood; continuing to pay closer attention to their own body, their own mind and the sensations around them with a sense of openness and curiosity.

Beliefs, judgments, what is right, what is wrong, fear, anxieties and creativity are all thought processes and feelings that are shaped from childhood which then extends itself into familiarity and applied by the child under the respective circumstance. These emotions and their applications essentially derive from teacher-child interactions, parenting, books, music and all the sights and sounds that the child is initially exposed to. It is what is referred to as the ‘invisible pedagogy’, where language, response and reasoning is consciously taught, but then leaves the child to apply this to their new environment by themselves either with little or without any supervision.

 

It is our own experience that has taught us that this is how we learn best, and that method is what has been traditionally passed down through the generations because it works! However, whilst it is vital that we continue to learn through experience, it’s now equally as crucial that we as parents and teachers recognise how stressful and demanding it is for this new generation of children to grow up in, particularly in the fast paced, competitive and socially tech savvy that this new aged world has evolved into.

 

So what’s the science behind the ‘CHANGE YOUR MIND PROGRAM’ and how will it help?

 

 

The temporal lobe (green) is the region of the brain that plays the primary role when practicing mindfulness. It’s this region that is concerned with:

 

     MATURITY                   BEHAVIOUR                       LONG-TERM MEMORY                     DECISION MAKING                  EMOTIONAL REASONING

Inside the temporal lobe lays the amygdala which are 2 small almond shaped lobes that contain neurones (the human form of electrical cables that relay chemical and electrical messages to the brain) and serves as the child’s emotional warehouse of the mind.

THE AMYGDALA

Abnormal functioning of the amygdala can lead to:

ANXIETY

DEPRESSION

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

PHOBIAS

 

This can stem from developmental damage caused by the imbalance of the brain’s neurotransmitters (the nervous systems’ chemical messengers).

 

However, this can be prevented by intervening early on in a child’s developmental stage. Early intervention may include activities such as ‘Children’s Relaxation Therapy’, although any activity incorporating mindfulness will essentially contribute to some form of chemical balancing and will as a consequence, aid to condition the temporal lobe of the brain to eventually produce a more reasoned and constructive response to the same stimuli.

It is important to remember, that mindfulness doesn’t work like a switch. You can’t just practise it sporadically and expect the desired outcome. The outcome as with any activity, is only strengthened with frequent and regular practise. When carried out on children, it’s more likely to be embedded into their lifestyle and become habitual as opposed to adults who can find this practice more difficult due to the business of life.

The LHS of the amygdala processes emotions such as:

HAPPINESS

UNHAPPINESS

The RHS of the amygdala processes emotions such as:

FEAR

SADNESS

ANGER

ANXIETY

DEPRESSION

The unpleasant responses are then stored in the long-term memory and recalled every time a familiar visual, sound, taste or touch receptor is stimulated. This can be either 1) unlearnt (dependent on the sensitivity and strength of the stimulus) or 2) weakened but managed by using the strategies of mindfulness.

 

CAN THIS AFFECT BOYS AND GIRLS DIFFERENTLY?

There is a difference between the development of the LHS and the RHS of the amygdala between males and females. The LHS of the female amygdala matures in growth 1.5 years earlier than that of her male counterpart, which means that females will be able to process their emotions earlier on compared to males.

The adrenal glands are another set of lobes that rest above each kidney. They play a vital role in influencing how the body responds to internal and external environmental factors, such as stress.

Mindfulness can have an influence on how these adrenal glands function and release various hormones (the body’s natural chemical messengers that flow around the circulatory system), which can influence how the body will respond.

Whilst there are numerous hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in the stimulation of the nervous system, here we have stated and explained how just three of those hormones have been scientifically proven to influence how the body can respond after having been influenced by mindfulness:

 

                                              #1 ANDROGEN                           #2 CORTISOL                             #3 ADRENALINE

 

#1 ANDROGEN:

The amygdala for both genders have receptors (communication centres) that respond to the hormone androgen; a hormone produced by the sex organs as well as the adrenal glands which are located just above both kidneys (as shown above).

 

It’s this hormone that leads to a physical form of action or response. The male amygdala are found to have a much higher concentration of androgen receptors and therefore more particles of androgen will bind to it. Thus increasing its mass and androgen induced activities. This would explain why in general, males tend to respond physically to fear induced stimulus compared to females.

A DECREASE IN ANDROGEN LEADS TO 

 

                                                                 LETHARGY                           FATIGUE                          DEPRESSION

 

Studies in the Waisman Laboratory for brain imaging and behaviour at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, conclusively reported that fMRI scans demonstrated that over the course of meditating for tens of thousands of hours, the long-term practitioners had actually altered the structure and function of their brains … and [subsequently facilitated] rapid learning’ (Davidson and Lutz, 2008) and that activity of the amygdala could be influenced under ‘emotional regulative strategies’ (Desbordes et al., 2012). In short, practising mindfulness helped to modulate the amygdala and the temporal and parietal lobes of the brain, i.e. the lobes that deal with behavioural response of self-awareness and body ownership.

 

Reactions of the amygdala decrease when the child reaches adolescence and increase in activity during puberty. The lateral amygdala receives input from the sensory systems, which is what our children’s relaxation classes incorporate into its lessons, leading to a more conducive way in processing and managing both pleasant and unpleasant feelings, along with its acceptance.

#2 CORTISOL:

Cortisol is another steroid based hormone released from the adrenal glands. Every cell in your body has receptors that respond to cortisol, and will have various actions depending on the receptors it’s acting on.

Bioenergetics a study that can also be defined as the study of energy- relationships and energy transformations in living organisms has become the root of Bioenergetic therapy; an analysis of a specific form of body-psychotherapy, based upon the continuity between the body and mind.

 

This stemmed from the work conducted by Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen, American physician and psychotherapist. Their studies showed that the through bioenergetic exercise, physical pain can be dissolved and emotion released, leading to a new sense of confidence and well being (Lowen 1975). Stimulation with use of touch for example can energise the receptors and cause the release of the body’s own natural steroid hormone cortisol.

CORTISOL IS RELEASED IN RESPONSE TO - STRESS & LOW BLOOD SUGAR LEVEL

It plays a key role in memory function and formation​, blood sugar levels, metabolism and acts an anti-inflammatory.

#3 ADRENALINE:

Adrenaline is a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands often when there is a stressful situation. Like all hormones, they serve as chemical messengers in the bloodstream and so when a stimulus of stress or excitement is induced its response is immediate. During this time, a child’s heart rate will begin to increase, hands may become sweaty and immediately the ‘fight danger or flee’ response will kick in.

AN INCREASE IN ADRENALINE LEADS TO:

INCREASED STRENGTH IN  PERFORMANCE RELATED ACTIVITIES

HEIGHTENED AWARENESS

HEIGHTENED RESPONSE IN STRESSFUL SITUATIONS

Over exposure of adrenaline can be damaging to health and can lead to, anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, restlessness, irritability and nervousness.

In summary, it’s vital that we tend to our body’s organs, not just through eating the right foods and exercising, but also by tending to our brain’s activities. Mindfulness, relaxation and meditation can enhance the brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of its respective glands, releasing hormones in its correct concentrations and thus keeping it in balance. This allows the child and clearly even adults to acknowledge the thoughts and feelings that are swimming inside of the brain to either 1) accept the feeling 2) ignore it or 3) make constructive and reasoned changes.

REFERENCES:

Davidson, R., Lutz, A. (2008) Buddha’s Brain Neuroplastisity and meditation. 25(1): 176-174

Desbordes, G., Negi, L., Pace, T., et al. (2012). Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state (6): 292.

 

Gaiswinkler, L., Unterrainer, H.F. (2016). The Relationship Between Yoga Involvement, Mindfulness and Psychological Well-being. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 26(1): 123-127.

 

Harris, A. “Mindfulness for children.” [Retrieved from www.annakaharris.com]

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/adolescence/

Ivtzan, I., Young, T., Martman, J., Jeffrey, A., Lomas, T., Hart, R., Eiroa-Orosa, F.J. (2016). Integrating Mindfulness into Positive Psychology: a Randomised Controlled Trial of an Online Positive Mindfulness Program. Mindfulness, 7(6): 1396-1407.

 

Keng,S., Smoski, M., Robins, C. (2011). Effects of mindfulness of psychological health: A review of empirical Studies. 31(6): 1041-1056

Lowen, A. (1975). Bioenergetics: The Revolutionary Therapy That Uses the Language of the Body to Heal the Problems of the Mind (Compass). Penguin books publishing.

 

Pattanaik Devdutt (2009). East vs West. [TED talk]

Salomon, G. Globerson, T. (1987) The Role of Mindfulness in Learning and Transfer: Journal of Educational Research, 11 (6) 623-637.

 

Young, K. (2017). Mindfulness for children: Fun, effective ways to strengthen mind, body, spirit. Retrieved from www.heysigmund.com

Zinn, M., Zinn, J. (1997) Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting. Hyperion publishing.

 

For further insight into how mindfulness can impact the classroom, take a sneaky peek into this website:​

https://digest.bps.org.uk/