The long days of summer are coming to an end, which signals the start of the school year. Over the next few weeks, boys and girls across the country will be returning to their full time classroom positions. For them, back-to-school can be both exciting and stressful. No doubt that their lives are busier than ever. Homework, extra curricular activities, social commitments, and maybe even part time jobs mean that the fall can signal the start of the high stress season.
As a clinical psychologist in private practice, I've witnessed first hand the effects that today's fast-paced lives have on my young clients. And I've also seen how stressed out sons and daughters make for equally anxious moms and dads. So what tools can we provide our youth so that they experience peace of mind despite the demands of daily life? I recommend an ancient practice whose benefits are backed by science.
Meditation is a natural tension buster. At first, the thought of successfully motivating our perpetually wired, A.D.D.-addled teens to regularly meditate may seem implausible. But a study in the American Journal of Hypertension proves that it's not only possible, but it can also yield remarkable results.
Inner City Teens Meditate and Experience Less Stress
In 2004, Dr. Vernon A. Banks, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia, and his colleagues sought to examine if daily meditation could decrease blood pressure among inner-city adolescents. The team postulated that regular Transcendental Meditation (TM) would aid in stress reduction through decreasing subjects' ambulatory blood pressure. TM, as you may know, is a widely practiced form of meditation that was made famous by the Beatles. Dr. Banks focused on African American youths because hypertension has its roots in childhood and African Americans have disproportionately higher rates of hypertension compared to whites.
For four months, the teens meditated twice a day for 15 minutes. Afterwards, blood pressure results revealed that compared with the control group, those who practiced TM experienced a measurable decrease in daytime systolic and diastolic blood pressure and in daytime heart rate. In other words, meditation decreased stress and increased relaxation.
So How Does It Work?
Today's teenagers can have packed schedules that rival those of their parents. Despite their calendars brimming with activity, if we encourage them to meditate regularly, they can still experience peace of mind. To illustrate how it works, think of meditation as you would the breaks that kids are required to take throughout the school day. Now imagine if our children had to attend classes without any relief. The day would quickly become unbearable. But the 15 minutes for recess and the 45 minute lunch breaks provide them the breathing space to make it through.
Similarly, meditation gives their minds time off from constant mental activity. For proof, look up the numerous studies that measure the brainwaves of long time meditators. They have an ability to relax their minds to the alpha, theta, and delta levels-brain states that are usually associated with sleep.
Let's Get Meditating
Kids follow by example, so if you haven't done so already, I recommend you try meditation yourself. My clients who meditate regularly report decreased stress and increased focus. The simplest way for both you and your kids to begin is through a guided meditation, which means that a person is speaking throughout session. As you sit quietly, he or she will prompt you to visualize, breathe, or any other number of proven relaxation techniques. Beginners often prefer guided meditations because they have something to focus on.
With our nation's young people returning to school, moms and dads have their children's mental and physical health in mind. An increasing body of scientific research is pointing to the power of meditation. Best of all the practice is free, has no side effects, and is simple to do. If you're looking for guided meditations, you'll find several online on sites such as iTunes. To start, you can download my free weekly meditation podcast. Each session usually lasts for about 10 minutes.