Dr. Javier García Campayo is licensed in Medicine, Psychiatrist at the Miguel Servet University Hospital. He is accredited Professor of the Department of Medicine, Psychiatry and Dermatology of the University of Zaragoza a well as Director of the Master Course in Mindfulness and Director of the Research Group “Mental Health in Primary Care”.
Javier, at what point is research today (September 2018) on the benefits of practicing mindfulness? And more particularly, how can teenagers and young people benefit from it?
The benefits of mindfulness practice have been confirmed by multiple research studies. In fact, mindfulness is one of the areas of neuroscience which is being researched a lot, not only because of its usefulness in different environments, but because it will allow us to better understand how the brain works. Mindfulness is useful both in dealing with psychological illnesses such as depression, anxiety, addictions or bulimia; as well as with medical diseases such as hypertension, cancer, chronic pain and all stress-related disorders. In the case of adolescents and young people, what the studies confirm is that mindfulness increases attention and concentration, facilitates a better regulation of emotions, increases prosocial behavior and the relationship with parents as well as improving academic performance.
How can mindfulness be incorporated into the educational environment, either in the school context or outside it? There are different ways to incorporate mindfulness in schools and institutes:
The way in which youth workers and educators who are not teachers can incorporate it is the following:
These professionals must follow a general training program in mindfulness FOR THEMSELVES. If a teacher does not practice, he/she cannot teach, and will not be able to transmit it. A minimum period of 6-12 months of personal practice is recommended before you start using it with children.
Once you have incorporated the practice of mindfulness into your personal life, the way you apply it depends on the age of the child. The younger the children, the shorter the exercises are and the more directed and playful the components. The older they are, the more they resemble the exercises used with adults, so they can be longer, less directed and without so much of a ludic aspect. The time dedicated to younger school children (6-10 years) can be 5 minutes per day, which can be extended to 7-8 minutes per day from 10 to 14 years, and up to 10 minutes per day for the oldest.
What possibilities do you think nature offers for the practice of mindfulness?
Nature is the ideal place to practice mindfulness because the mind has fewer external stimuli, which results in fewer negative thoughts and emotions. In fact, retreats of both mindfulness and meditative traditions are usually performed in nature for this reason. Studies confirm that the same hours of practice in a retreat are more effective than those hours done at home or in a practice center in a city. The reason for this is thought to be, as we have said, that the mind has fewer external stimuli and its ability to learn and retain what is learned is greater.
Do you have any specific information about the penetration of mindfulness into the educational field in European countries, especially the Mediterranean ones? What future do you predict for the practice of mindfulness in educational and youth contexts?
According to data from the middle of this year (2018), around 1,000 schools and institutes throughout Spain have been using mindfulness in some way as have 10-15% of public and private universities. In other Mediterranean countries such as Portugal, Italy or Greece penetration of mindfulness is lower. Spain is at the forefront of practice, teaching and research in mindfulness in southern Europe. In the whole of Europe, Great Britain is the absolute leader. The British government has committed to invest millions of pounds in the next 10 years to include mindfulness in health but, above all, in education. The British consider, with reason, that if the whole next generation receives mindfulness training at school from the age of 6 to 16, society will change for the better.
The future of mindfulness in the educational and university environment in these countries is assured by the scientific evidence on its properties and because there is increasing sensitivity towards this topic among professors, students, parents of students and educational authorities.