Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

'Mindfulness' improves mental health

Room 4 at Te Papapa School with mindfulness tutor Grant Rix. Photo / Supplied
Room 4 at Te Papapa School with mindfulness tutor Grant Rix. Photo / Supplied

A teacher at an inner-city Auckland primary school reported "an enduring sense of calm" after her students had six weeks of training in "mindfulness".

The training had "profound effects on a couple of children" who had been unable to sit still and easily distracted.

In a smaller, low-decile school, another teacher reported that children who got into a fight calmed down more quickly.

"Most of the credit for this can go to mindfulness, as the class are thinking about their actions instead of reacting," the teacher said.

"Mindfulness" is an established technique for adult mental health, helping people to cope with stressful issues in their past or stressful upcoming events by focusing on the present - observing and appreciating the world around them and the state of their own bodies.

Last year the Mental Health Foundation began a pilot scheme to teach the same techniques to 126 children in five primary schools. A facilitator went into the classes eight times over eight weeks, and regular classroom teachers were trained in how to make the techniques part of their daily routines.

"Breathing is a very big part of it," said foundation chief executive Judi Clements. "Just focusing on breathing brings you into the body and into the present.

"Also mindful eating, so children can be given something like a raisin or a piece of chocolate and actually focus on eating."

They also learn a modified kind of yoga, a body scan paying attention to each part of their bodies, mindful walking noticing each bodily part of every step, and a "happy heart" practice encouraging them to care for others.

"It's enabling them to be in the present, in the moment, in their bodies, and understand their emotions so that they don't just react to things, so they are able to be there to learn and also create relationships with others," Ms Clements said.

The programme, developed by Tauranga-based mental health worker Grant Rix, has been entirely funded by donations such as the $50,000 which this year's Ride out of the Blue hopes to raise for it.

But it is now being evaluated and Ms Clements hopes the results will convince the Ministry of Education to make it part of the health curriculum in all schools.

"We see the benefits of mindfulness as improved function and stronger attention and the ability to learn and general wellbeing," she said. "We are waiting for the full research, which should be fairly soon, but we don't want to let not getting support from the Government stop us doing this. We will find ways to keep this going."

- NZ Herald

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