There is a recent growing movement to bring yoga and mindfulness practices into school settings with the goal of promoting healthy, happy students and teachers, and a positive classroom climate: the contemplative education movement. Contemplative education programs integrate secular contemplative practices, such as meditation or yoga poses, into existing school curricula.
Although research on contemplative education programs is in its infant stages, there is empirical support that such programs offer benefits for both teachers and students. For example, Robert Roeser, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, and colleagues found that participating in a contemplative education program designed for teachers (SMART-in-Education) led to a decrease in stress and burnout while boosting their focused attention, memory, and sense of compassion towards themselves in their role as a teacher. Patricia Jennings and colleagues found similar results for the Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) for Teachers program. Additionally they found that teachers who took part in the program rated themselves as feeling more effective in their work.
Contemplative education programs also have been found to offer several benefits for students including:
- improved psychological well-being (Kuyken et al.; 2013)
- decreased symptoms of stress and anxiety (Kuyken et al., 2013; Napoli, Krech, & Holley, 2005; Parker, Kupersmidt, Mathis, Scull, & Sims, 2014)
- improved attention (Black & Fernando, 2013; Napoli et al., 2005)
- increased self-control (Black & Fernando, 2013; Flook et al., 2010; Parker et al., 2014; Schonert-Reichl et al., 2015)
- more frequent prosocial behaviour (Schonert-Reichl & Lawlor, 2010; Schonert-Reichl et al., 2015)
- greater participation in class (Black & Fernando, 2013)
- decreased likelihood in developing suicidal thoughts or participating in self harm (Britton et al., 2014)
- decreased problem behaviour in the classroom (Flook et al., 2010; Napoli et al., 2005; Parker et al., 2014)
- increased empathy, perspective taking, emotion control, and optimism, and decreased aggression towards peers (Schonert-Reichl et al., 2015)
Despite such programs being well-received by both students and teachers (e.g., Conboy et al., 2013; Maloney, 2015; Mendelson et al., 2010; Parker et al, 2014), there has been some controversy in the media whether contemplative practices belong in schools. Much of this has been the result of misunderstanding yoga and meditation practices as religious practices.
Yoga and meditation are secular practices. That is, they are not bound to a religion. You are not required to have a specific belief system to practice yoga and meditation. You don’t have to go to a special place; they can be done anywhere. Contemplative practices are just that – practical. They do not require faith or a specific spiritual outlook. Although some contemplative practices may be included in some religions, there is no religion in yoga or meditation practices. For example, yogic wisdom recommends cultivating the values of compassion, non-violence, and truthfulness. The “Golden Rule” is at the heart of yoga. There are many religions that share the same values. These values, however, are not religious in themselves, but tools for living that can be practiced by anyone. One might argue that these are universal practices that can be practiced within any belief system or context to cultivate a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. It’s no wonder that we can find doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, parents, and educators from a wide-range of cultural backgrounds interested in the potential of contemplative practices for promoting well-being. Of course, it is of the utmost importance as contemplative programs are integrated into public spheres that everyone has a choice whether to take part in the practices or not. Contemplative practices should never be mandatory.
Here are some research-based contemplative education programs to check out.