During class meetings on Monday, Apr. 21 and Monday, Apr. 28, the tenth graders heard from Jill Valle, a Marriage and Family Therapist and a middle and upper school counselor at Wildwood School. Valle spoke to the class about stress and the benefits of mindfulness, a meditation practice in which one attempts to concentrate on the present moment.
At the first meeting, Valle, who trained at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, discussed the causes of stress and the effects of stress on the body. She explained that while a certain level of stress can be beneficial, prolonged stress can impair one’s ability to learn and perform. Valle then led the class in several breathing exercises.
According to School Counselor Emily Vaughn, breathing exercises are meant to calm the body down by focusing on one’s awareness of the present, which in turn calms the mind. She added that the technique takes time to learn and requires repetition to be effective. “[Mindfulness] is about learning the process and practicing it, so that when you need that stress relief, it’s already in your body and you know how to do it,” Vaughn explained.
History and social sciences instructor Michael Rindge, who attended a mindfulness retreat through the University of California, Los Angeles two summers ago, elaborate on the benefits of mindfulness.
“The important thing about mindfulness ultimately is about its capacity to increase kindness, empathy, and make stronger emotional connections with people. If you’re truly present with someone, that you can maybe be more aware of what’s going on or more appreciative,” Rindge said.
Several girls, such as Maya ’16, said they found the techniques helpful and would consider using them to de-stress. Ellie ’16, however, noted that while she thinks that it is important to talk about the causes and effects of stress, she remains unsure of how helpful breathing exercises would be in decreasing stress.
“[Breathing] just kind of lets you take a moment to yourself and just clear your mind, but I personally don’t think like breathing is…very effective,” she said.
During the second meeting, Valle led the students through a longer mindfulness exercise after checking in with them about their experiences with mindful breathing, which they had been told to practice between the meetings. Molly ’16 said that she believes people’s attitudes towards the techniques determine how effective they will be.
“I think a lot of people doubted [the breathing exercises], and I think it would work if you didn’t doubt it; like you’d have to actually try,” she said.
Vaughn explained that she has been trying to bring mindfulness programs to campus for several years. Physical education instructor Christine Burke has led students through meditation exercises after several fire or earthquake drills this year, and Rindge introduced mindfulness concepts to the 7th and 8th grades last year. When 10th Grade Dean and history and social sciences instructor Tom Millar expressed interest in providing the class with some tools to manage stress, Vaughn recommended Valle.
According to Millar, a greater interest in mindfulness at schools has arisen from efforts to fulfill the goals of human development programs, which exist at most schools in the Los Angeles area. These programs aim to help schools come up with ways to aid students in their growth as human beings and not just in their academic development. Marlborough’s 7th and 9th grade health courses, which address subjects such as friendships, drugs and sexuality, qualify as human development initiatives. Millar added that speakers who lecture on topics ranging from Internet safety to mental health also fulfill these aims.
“A lot of schools are moving in the direction of—and actually a lot of corporations, too— integrating some kind of mindfulness training… [mindfulness] is a good human development thing to incorporate,” Millar explained.
Rindge agreed, as he said he believes mindfulness has been a growing trend for the past 10 or 15 years.
“The study of neuroscience and the study of the brain have seen leaps and bounds of scientific evidence to tell us that meditation, to tell us that the insight of mind… greatly benefits your overall health and relationships,” Rindge said.
According to an article published in The Week, mindfulness was adapted from Buddhism into a secular practice and first introduced on a larger scale by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who used it in the 1970s to help reduce chronic pain. The article added that increased scientific evidence for the advantages of the practice has led the Pentagon to begin using mindfulness to increase soldiers’ mental strength and awareness and has caused many Silicon Valley business people to become some of the practice’s strongest advocates.
Vaughn also commented on the trend, saying that she knows of several schools in California, especially ones in the Bay Area, that have set times during the school day for the students to practice mindfulness, and she added that she hopes similar plans will be implemented at Marlborough.
“I’m hopeful that we will integrate mindfulness training across the whole School community; I think teachers as well as students could benefit from it… I think that once you begin to feel the difference in your body, that it becomes something you want to do more,” Vaughn said
Molly mentioned that she thinks an expansion of mindfulness practices would be a good thing
“I think a lot of people have been asking for… the School to provide ways for them to relieve stress, so I think that [mindfulness] would be an answer,” Molly explained.