Meditation – what, why, when, and how to facilitate it in schools

Meditation – what, why, when, and how to facilitate it in schools

We all know that meditation is good for us, but similar to exercising regularly, it can sometimes be challenging, especially when we're unsure on how to approach it.

As any health expert would tell you, the key to optimal health is by adopting small daily habits, and this includes practices for your mental and emotional health too. Practicing meditation, even for just a couple of minutes at a time, can have a profound impact on your mood, energy, and how you show up each day. The recent changes in schooling and the impact of Covid – 19 means that there is a need for regular meditation and mindfulness in the classroom. Here’s everything you need to know to begin today.

What is Meditation

If you would like to begin offering meditation to your students, you may find it helpful to understand some of the different forms of meditation, especially the ones which are suitable for you and your young learners. Below are four popular forms that can easily fit into your school day.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a calming practice, which simply teaches us to be aware of our thoughts. Even as adults we can be consumed by our thoughts, and so it is nice to experience a space where we observe our thoughts, as opposed to identifying with them. In meditation we observe our thoughts just as simply thoughts, almost like clouds in the sky. Here one minute and gone the next. Mindfulness meditation can be practiced in silence, or with soft music in the background. If you are guiding this practice, just simply direct your students to be aware of their thoughts, and to return to their breath as soon as they notice their thoughts wandering. The true beauty of this practice is that it can be done at any time of the school day. 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation can help both the teacher and students to ground themselves, reduce high anxious energies, and bring the state of the class to a more neutral level. I am sure you are already thinking of several opportunities when you could offer this to your students (there’s so many).

Progressive relaxation

This is a wonderful practice which does exactly what it’s called. It makes you feel relaxed. This form of meditation take students on a journey of relaxation and calm. This is often done with a combination of slow and deep breath work, aligned with muscle and tension release. This practice leaves both the body and mind feeling calm. This can be done to lower energy levels after break time or PE, or, towards the end of the school day.

Loving – kindness meditation

This practice is one of my favorites and can often be recognized as gratitude practice. Research has proven a strong relationship between regular gratitude and feeling more positive, and who wouldn’t want to feel more positive? Not only that, but this type of meditation practice also heightens our ability to recognize the joy in simple things, it helps us to deal with adversity and, builds strong relationships. This guided practice allows students to think of things that they are grateful for and guides them to create the positive feelings that are associated with it. This practice literally recreates positives emotions in the body. It’s also recommended to ask students to share afterwards or invite them to journal their thoughts in a gratitude diary.

Visualization meditation

Adults call this type of practice visualization, while children call it imagination. This practice trains us to strengthen the power of our minds and the ability this can have on our day ahead. This practice mentally prepares students for a productive day, allowing them to see in their mind what they want to achieve, and, how they want to achieve it. It’s a powerful technique and is frequently used by lots of high-performance professionals, including singers and sports athletes. For this practice simply ask your students to imagine what they want to achieve today, and how they want to achieve it. Take them on a journey and allow them to feel all the emotions associated with achievement and accomplishment.

Why should we offer meditation to our students?

It has become evident over recent years that mental health conditions are on the rise, with one in six children being affected by a known mental health condition. Additionally, the impact of lockdown and the pandemic have seen implications on our student’s health. The NHS reported that 55.8% of students declaring that the lockdown has made their lives a little worse or worse, and so it is only fair that we must all take correct measures to ensuring the health of wellbeing of our students, and society at large. But pandemic aside, it is important to acknowledge that school life can simply just be a stressful place to be. The constant pressures of academic performance paired with examinations, teacher and parental expectations, as well as social acceptance and peer inclusion, can make school a very daunting and anxious provoking place for many students. Offering students the opportunity to practice meditation and other mindfulness experiences, allows students to move out of these stressful scenarios and navigate into a more harmonious state.

The science behind meditation is vast, but in simple terms, it has the ability to calm our sympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ and into our para-sympathetic nervous system, also known as ‘rest and repair’. Using meditative practices gently moves our students into a calmer state, increasing their self-awareness and making them more present. On top of this, there is also growing research which shows the positive impact meditation can have on our cognition, memory, and attention. Which is why schools are the perfect place to nurture these areas of our student’s lives.

When is the right time to offer meditation?

You can practice meditation pretty much at any time of the school day. What’s important to keep in mind is the purpose of the practice and how it matches up to how your students are feeling in that present moment. Visualization and intention setting meditations are perfect to practice first thing in the morning. They set the mood for the day, allow your students to get clear on what they want to achieve and puts everyone on the right foot. Mindfulness meditations can be practiced before an exam, and it is recommended that the practice is built upon prior to the examination date. Essentially, we want to prepare our students to regulate themselves and feel equipped mentally before they enter the examination hall.  Progressive relaxation mediations can be practiced after a high energy class i.e., PE, or, at the end of the day before they leave school. And finally, loving-kindness or emotional awareness meditations can be delivered during a PSHE unit, helping your students to become aware of their emotions and help them build healthy relationships with themselves.

How do I begin?

If you are interested in offering meditation to your students, there are plenty of resources out there. You can also try out this visualization meditation script below. It’s suitable for primary years, and it is perfect to practice first thing in the morning. Enjoy.

Morning Visualization Meditation

Hello, and welcome to this morning’s meditation. Practicing meditation in the morning can really set us up for the day ahead.

When you are ready, I invite you to settle into this morning meditation. Find a comfortable place to sit, and softly close your eyes.

Begin by placing your focus on your breath. Taking slow breaths in, and slow breaths out. At your own pace, take three healthy breaths feeling the breath inside you whole body.

In the morning, the sun rises, shining its light throughout the day. You are like the sun; You have the ability to shine your light throughout your day. Everything you do today, can have a positive impact on the people around you, and, on yourself. You are unique, and there is no one else in this world like you. Today, you get shine your light.

When we meditate, we can set our goal for the day ahead. What do you want to achieve today? Once you have chosen it, I want you to imagine yourself achieving it. Can you see yourself doing it, and what does it feel like? Sit with this feeling. You can do anything you put your mind to because you are brilliant. You are creative. And you are special.

Repeat these to yourself after me. I am brilliant. I am creative. I am special.

In your own time, you can make some small movements in your body, and then gently open your eyes. Just like the sun, today is your day to shine.

AuthorOisin McWeeney is a curriculum specialist at the UAE Ministry of Education with a deep interest in student’s health and wellbeing. His qualifications include a professional diploma in education, a bachelor’s degree in physical education and health studies, and a diploma in counselling. Oisin is a big advocate for mental health awareness in schools, especially amongst the primary years. He is passionate about educating school communities on the importance of early prevention and methodologies to support student wellbeing. Oisin aspires to support schools in becoming nurturing grounds for both health and learning, in which they coincide with one another. He is also a qualified yoga teacher and meditation coach, and facilitates classes, workshops and wellness retreats throughout the UAE.