Wales

Children and mindfulness: Does it work?

Mindfulness graphic with key words like "meditation", "awareness" and "thoughts"

Can paying more attention to the present moment - to your own thoughts and feelings - and to the world around you, improve your mental wellbeing?

Meditation, yoga and tai-chi are all formal methods of "mindfulness", as recognised by NHS Choices - but it can be practised just by stopping, looking around, and taking in the surroundings.

So would it work for children?

Some schools in Wales have introduced the technique to pupils' daily routine, and scientists at Bangor University have been testing children at Ysgol Emmanuel in Rhyl, Denbighshire, in a unique experiment to see whether mindfulness does indeed help them focus. It is due to publish its results shortly.

"Mindfulness can be described as a form of mind training," the project's Dr Dusana Dorjee told BBC Wales.

"A form of mental training that enables us to notice what is happening in our mind and body. And it also teaches us to relate to our experience in a more gentle, non-judgmental way.

"We are hoping to see whether mindfulness training helps children focus better, so whether they can more stay on the task they are asked to do and whether they can let go of information that is irrelevant to that task."

'Flourish'

Together with the scientists, the school developed a teaching programme specifically aimed at children.

Dr Sophie Sansom, who manages a mindfulness in schools project, wants it brought into the curriculum, describing mindfulness as "the best way to help kids to flourish".

She said it offered "different techniques they can use to cope with stress, anxiety and depression but also to perform well, to train their attention, to be able to concentrate better, to be able to regulate their emotions so they can some control over their happiness, their health and their wellbeing".

Ysgol Emmanuel has been practising mindfulness for two years.

Teacher Linda Coleman said: "It's made a huge difference, in the fact that on occasions when we do have that wobbliness, after playtimes, after PE [Physical Education], after lunchtimes, we're able to practice this mindfulness and it calms the whole situation down."

It remains to be seen whether the Bangor scientists will find positive results from the Rhyl experiment.

But mindfulness is even being discussed by a cross-party group of Westminster MPs, with Newport East MP Jessica Morden telling BBC Wales Today it was "logical".

Ms Morden, who practises mindfulness herself, said: "I think it's just logical, if there are little small simple techniques you can teach people to help people kind of calm down in different periods of their lives, what's the harm in that?"

Mindfulness

The NHS lists mindfulness as one of the five steps to mental wellbeing.

Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, said it meant knowing directly what was going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. It could be an antidote to the "tunnel vision" that can develop in our daily lives, he said.

"An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.

"Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment. Awareness of this kind doesn't start by trying to change or fix anything. It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives."

Source: NHS Choices

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