Sunday, 12 September 2010

Mindfulness meditation helps teenage boys

Two phrases you seldom see in the same sentence – ‘mindfulness meditation’ and ‘teenage boys’ – but new research from Cambridge University’s Institute of Wellbeing found how extremely beneficial it was when they introduced one to the other.

Researchers found that after a four-week course in mindfulness, the 155 boys (aged 14-15 years old) were found to have increased feelings of wellbeing, defined as the combination of feeling good (including positive emotions such as happiness, contentment, interest and affection) and also an increased sense of functioning well.

“More and more we are realising the importance of supporting the overall mental health of children,” said Professor Felicia Huppert at the university’s Institute of Wellbeing, who conducted the study. “Our study demonstrates that this type of training improves wellbeing in adolescents and that the more they practice, the greater the benefits.

“Importantly, many of the students genuinely enjoyed the exercises and said they intended to continue them – a good sign that many children would be receptive to this type of intervention.

“Another significant aspect of this study is that adolescents who suffered from higher level of anxiety were the ones who benefited most from the training.”

For the research, students in six classes in two independent schools in the UK, were taught what is termed ‘mindful awareness’, or mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of consciously bringing attention and focus to the here and now, bringing awareness to our experience in the moment of experiencing it, but without passing judgement about it. This consisted of four 40-minute classes, one per week, which presented the principles and practice of mindfulness.

The classes covered awareness and acceptance of what they were experiencing, and taught the students how to practice bodily awareness by paying attention to their breathing, noticing all the sensations involved simply in walking, for example. They were also asked to practice in their own time, and were encouraged to listen to a series of exercises, designed to improve concentration and reduce stress, on a CD or mp3 file for eight minutes a day.

All students also completed a carefully compiled short series of online questionnaires before and after participating in the research. The questionnaires measured the effect of the training on changes in mindful awareness, resilience (the ability to modify responses to changing situations) and their sense of psychological wellbeing.

Researchers found that although it was a short programme, students who participated had increased levels of wellbeing as a consequence, and these were proportional to the amount of time they spent practicing their new skills.

“We believe that the effects of mindfulness training can enhance wellbeing in a number of ways,” said Professor Huppert. “If you practice being in the present, you can increase positive feelings by savouring pleasurable ongoing experiences. Additionally, calming the mind and observing experiences with curiosity and acceptance not only reduces stress but helps with attention control and emotion regulation – skills which are valuable both inside and outside the classroom.”

As the mother of two, teenage and older, I say - let's hear it for the boys!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The benefits of boredom...

It may sound a contradiction in terms, but boredom can actually have its benefits. Being bored can provide the opportunity for a creative hiatus, and even be the motivating factor behind your next great idea!
Boredom is said to fall into two categories, situational and repetitive. Situational boredom describes those occasions when hanging about with nothing to do is necessary: waiting for a bus, for example. Repetitive boredom occurs from doing the same routine task over and over again. This can include some activity you once enjoyed, but which now palls.
Sometimes we experience boredom because we have developed a need for instant gratification, part of our do-it-now/have-it-now mentality. Many activities, like surfing the Net, can play into this. How much time have you spent doing just that in a futile bid to avoid boredom? Maybe you would have been better off accepting you were bored, then used this stimulus to find something you really wanted to engage with.
But while it is often condemned - 'the Devil finds work for idle hands', as the old adage goes - being bored provides some useful 'time out', allowing us the opportunity to clear the mind and see what percolates up. To mull over, consider, reject and re-consider, ideas and possibilities.
For children especially, being kept relentlessly busy is counter-productive. Without the experience of boredom, how can you learn the self-motivation to alleviate it? It's an important and necessary stage of intellectual development.
Don't fight it, when boredom comes knocking, but succumb to it and see what it yields. Akin to daydreaming, which research has shown to be an active state of brain function, boredom can even be a great motivator. Instead of filling every minute of your day with activity that might prohibit the possibilities for boredom, take a risk on being bored, and see what happens.
Maybe we should see being bored as the transitional state it is - a brief period between completing one activity or process, and starting the next. A welcome pause. An opportunity for reflection. A moment to collect and re-focus our thoughts. No more nor less than that. And certainly not something that has to be fought against.