by Ann Huber, Chief Operating Officer of YogaKids International
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass
Preparing fertile ground for learning can often get overlooked due to time constraints in reaching curriculum standards. But this preparation is a vital part of the process that can make reaching those standards much easier for students and teachers alike. Fortunately, the world appears to be waking up to this idea — as meditation programs become more and more prevalent in schools across the land.
Young lives – like ALL our lives — are noisy, filled with instructions, expectations, and modern distractions. Never-ending voices (both external and internal) create a constant stream of input, like a broken faucet that just won’t shut off. Meditation is the valve that stops the gushing water – and by doing so, sets the stage for optimal learning.
The purpose of meditation is often described as “quieting your mind” – and this can be a simple, effective definition for explaining meditation practice to children: “We’re quieting your mind before learning.” Other analogies can be useful as well: it’s like setting the table before dinner, or stretching your leg muscles before a vigorous run, or de-cluttering your desk before doing homework. Whatever language you choose, the idea remains the same: meditation becomes a precursor for personal growth.
The Space Between Our Primal Needs and Self-Actualization
Childhood development theorist Abraham Maslow suggested that we all have a “hierarchy of needs” – and that we must first meet our basic physiological needs (safety, shelter, food) before we can even think about goals of self-actualization (i.e. thinking and learning).
According to Maslow, our physiological needs are not the only barriers to learning. Between the primal needs and the self-actualization goals exist even more needs that must be met prior to reaching our creative potential. These are defined as social needs (feelings of belonging) and esteem needs (feelings of worthiness). And this is where meditation comes in, providing a proven strategy for nurturing self-love and self-acceptance.
While Maslow’s theory has been criticized for establishing a definitive ranking of human needs (where one does not truly exist), his ideas nevertheless create a useful framework for understanding the relationships between our perception of reality and our abilities. In other words, a child with low self-esteem is still capable of learning challenging material. But a child with high self-esteem will have an easier time of it. After all, children learn best when they believe in their ability to actually do so.
The Science of Meditation
The benefits of meditation have been backed-up by science. Students who practice meditation experience increased focus and creativity, a reduction in stress and anxiety, greater self-esteem and self-love, and improved academic achievement and overall health. Setting the stage for learning with meditation practice allows children the space and freedom to know their inherent worth. And nothing breeds success quite like the expectation of success.