Mindfulness meditation: boosting young people’s brain power?

by Claudine Ryan for ABC Health and Wellbeing

Feeling less stressed, having better concentration and a greater resilience to life’s challenges are some of the commonly-cited reasons for trying meditation. But this quest for inner calm is not limited to adults sitting in the lotus position; inside classrooms you’ll find children and young people also quietly focusing their thoughts inwards.

One technique popular with many schools and universities is mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting things for what they are (without judging or reacting to what you feel). This is usually done through exercises where you mentally focus on your breath or feelings in different parts of the body. But you can also do less formal mindfulness exercises that involve focusing on sensations you feel during daily activities like having a shower or washing the dishes.

Dr Richard Chambers is a clinical psychologist who uses mindfulness-based techniques in his work with young people, including undergraduate university students. He says research shows these techniques can really benefit students and young people.

“There is now a lot of research around mindfulness and performance, mindfulness and leadership, mindfulness and cognitive performance and mindfulness and academic performance.”

In his own research at Monash University, yet to be published, he has taught young people to meditate and then showed them how to draw on these skills to improve their learning and study habits.

“Our findings show that as well as becoming more mindful and less stressed, they become better able to concentrate, their memory improves and their academic performance improves as well.”

Chambers’ claims are backed by a recent US study that found links between mindfulness training and better working memory and improved test scores in undergraduate students.

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