Teenagers are used to being told that they have to study hard to get ahead.
But one West Australian girls’ school is advocating another, less conventional route to success.
As well as stimulating the mind, Santa Maria College, on the banks of Perth’s Swan River, is teaching the importance of stilling the mind.
The school has been incorporating meditation into the timetable over the past 18 months to try to reduce exam stress and safeguard students’ mental health.
Senior school head Carol Bell said the regular meditation sessions aimed to give the girls the inner resources to cope with an increasingly hectic world.
“Particularly in the senior years, we’ve become more aware of their increase in anxiety and the fact that they are so very busy,” she says.
“They are always thinking about what’s next, what’s in the future or worrying about what’s happened in the past.
“So really this was a practical way of introducing a skill set that allowed the girls to unplug.”
Ms Bell, herself a devotee of the practice, said overseas research showed meditation boosted concentration and focus.
“We’ve certainly noticed the difference coming into exams and heavy assessment schedules that the girls are facing those a bit more relaxed,” she said.
“I’m not seeing girls having meltdowns or in tears because they can’t cope.
“There is very much a ‘we can do it’ attitude.”
The business case for meditation
While still unusual in Australian schools, meditation could eventually become part of the mainstream according to David Michie, a Perth-based “mindfulness” tutor.
Mr Michie said improving academic performance was just one of the benefits of being able to control the mind, instead of being a slave to the sometimes constant chatter.
“If meditation was available in a capsule form, it would be the biggest selling drug of all time,” Mr Michie said.
“We all tend to be quite automatic thought-huggers and we don’t even realise that’s what we are doing.
“When we practice mindfulness and meditation, we become far better at simply observing thoughts and letting go of thoughts that don’t serve as well.”
Mr Michie said meditation was also catching on in the corporate world, with a growing number of organisations seeing the business case.
He has run sessions at about a dozen Perth companies, claiming regular meditation in the workplace can boost team work and reduce sick days.
Rentwest, a busy property management company in Applecross with 1,200 properties in its books, has embraced the idea.
Instead of brain storming, staff have been meditating in the boardroom each morning since an introductory session in February.
Company director Suzanne Brown said not all of the team were enthusiastic initially.
“They did say that they couldn’t think of anything worse than putting aside two hours in their day to have this session,” she said.
“But it was funny after that morning, the same people came up and said ‘my God that was just what we needed, that was perfect.'”
Since then, the team has meditated every day at 11:00am.
Ms Brown said the practise was boosting productivity, as well as team spirit.
“We had quite a big target for them to reach by the end of February for 47 properties leased and they managed 62,” she said.
“And I think they achieved that with a level of calmness.”
Mindfulness helps leadership skills: coach
Meditation is a skill being increasingly taught by Perth-based executive coach, Kasia Orlowska-Meinen.
Ms Orlowska-Meinen said while corporations may not be ready to invest in meditation specifically, she includes the practice in her workshops on leadership.
“The more mindful we are, the more we are able to have difficult conversations, the more we are able to influence people, to inspire them and to motivate them,” she said.
“All those leadership skills that we teach in a corporate environment can be developed as a result of developing mindfulness on a daily basis.”
While research from the US suggests schools in San Francisco have boosted academic results through regular meditation, in Australia there is no data to back up the results.
But Santa Maria College students are convinced of the benefits.
“I’m lucky that I’ve learnt it in school at quite a young age because now I can use it for many things in the future,” said one Year 11 student.
“It can help with stressful situations at university and all through life.”
Another said: “Meditation helps you to de-stress and relax and think about the now. And the future can wait, really.”
Read the article at the ABC.