Outrage 'won't stop mindful classrooms' - expert

SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 12:30 29/08/2014

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Kiwis could soon be seeing more "mindful" classrooms, as the calming technique gains traction overseas, experts say.

The proposed use of "mindfulness" at Riversdale School in Southland has already angered some parents, who are distrustful of its Buddhist origins and believe the practice will allow "the devil" to get inside children's heads.

Mindfulness is a technique focused on getting a person's thoughts and emotions in a natural and calm state and in the present moment.

Experts say while use of the mind-clearing movement is still relatively rare in New Zealand, it is becoming increasingly common in organisations and schools overseas.

AUT University director of teacher education Dr Ross Bernay has been working on a mindfulness in schools programme with the Mental Health Foundation, piloted in six schools throughout New Zealand.

There was a misconception that mindfulness was all about meditation, when it was actually more about teaching children how to pay attention through things like breathing and healthy eating exercises, he said.

"It's about increasing focus and attention, and that's really important for children - that they're able to focus on what's happening in school.

"It's also about learning to work with others compassionately, so there is a bit of a social element to it."

Victoria University school of psychology's Dr Paul Jose said parents' concerns were misplaced, as while mindfulness could be described as spiritual, it was not overtly religious.

"When I hear people complaining it's anti-Christian, it's a sign of their ignorance about what mindfulness is," he said.

"There's starting to be more and more evidence that the use of mindfulness techniques in schools with children and teenagers is proving to be beneficial."

Research overseas showed the technique worked successfully with adults struggling with addiction, trauma or stress.

It could also help children who had been bullied, as it would train them how to not internalise negative situations, Jose said.

"It's sweeping western society - Europe, Great Britain, America - as it becomes more westernised and less foreign I think people will think, it can benefit me and I don't have to be scared about it."

Auckland-based practitioner Dr Nick Penney, who trained with United Kingdom organisation Mindfulness in Schools, said he had taught nine-week courses to Auckland schools St Kentigern Girls' School, King's College and Diocesan School for Girls.

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In the United Kingdom earlier this year, there was even a parliamentary committee looking into whether mindfulness should be introduced into the national curriculum, he said.

"It's being very seriously looked at."

- Stuff

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