Meditation transcends difficulties

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Concern at pupils' emotional and mental health statistics has prompted film director David Lynch to launch an international campaign to teach meditation to children. Former Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney are backing the programme

For 20 minutes every day in this school, you can hear a pin drop. Pupils and teachers meditate twice daily at the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment.

The independent Lancashire establishment was set up more than 20 years ago for children whose parents practised Transcendental Meditation. It may sound a bit "brown rice and sandals", but the school has recently been given a glowing inspector's report by Ofsted. It described education here as "outstanding" and recognised the role of meditation in helping pupils develop self-calming and thinking skills.

Film director David Lynch is offering to pay for pupils in Scotland to be trained in Transcendental Meditation (TM) techniques, in a bid to reduce stress and improve learning. But take-up depends on whether Scottish education is ready to embrace the idea of mantras in the classroom - even if it is a freebie in a recession.

A small group of teachers at one school in the west of Scotland has already received instruction on meditation from the Transcendental Meditation Centre in Glasgow. Initial reactions are favourable, according to the centre, which is waiting until the projects are well established before releasing further details.

Seventy per cent of 700 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers recently admitted they help pupils with emotional or mental- health problems at least once a week. Concern about statistics like this prompted Lynch's international campaign to teach meditation to more children. Former Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, who learned meditation in the 1960s, are backing him.

Lynch's Foundation has funded meditation courses for 70,000 at-risk youngsters in the United States, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. It also funds independent research into the effects of TM on stress, learning and behaviour.

Derek Cassells has been headteacher at the Maharishi School since 1986. He says: "From our experience and the experience of the hundreds of schools using this throughout the world, we see consistent results, not just in student performance but also in the quality of life the students are leading. So their relationship with their peers and with their teachers and parents and their enjoyment of life are all enhanced.

"Students who have perhaps specific learning difficulties, ADHD for example, are benefiting from practising Transcendental Meditation, in addition to those students who you would normally think of as coping well with school," says Dr Cassells.

"It's been introduced in some of the most disadvantaged and toughest schools in the world and the same kind of beneficial effects are reported by students and teachers. So it doesn't matter the type of school or the level of affluence or where the parents come from - these benefits can be seen everywhere round the world, in all sorts of schools and independently of the curriculum the school is offering."

Scots teacher Lorna Blair, from Machanhill Primary in South Lanarkshire, spent time as a young teacher at the Maharishi School nearly 20 years ago. She learned to meditate when she was in fifth year at school. "I was needing some quietness in my life, probably stress reduction - although I wouldn't have been able to see that at that time," she says.

Mrs Blair believes that life has become even more stressful for young people and meditation would help them become happier and more effective learners. "We need headteachers to get experience of it, because I don't see how anyone would take it on for a school unless they experienced it themselves and enjoyed the benefits."

She thinks parents also need to be well informed about the benefits. "They need to be educated, just as my own parents did when I learned. They need to know that it's not a religion, it's not a philosophy, it's simply a mind technique and it doesn't need to alter anything in anyone's lifestyle apart from making the time to do it twice a day.

"What you see in recent years is a huge number of increased diagnoses of ADHD, autism and a lot of children not able to concentrate. So with any child, what it does is improves the learning ability."

Andrew Lennon, 14 and in third year at Boclair Academy in Bearsden, began meditating at home six months ago to help his concentration. His mum has found it beneficial over the last 15 years and encouraged him to start.

"I have been concentrating a lot more on my work and getting a lot better at music practice," he says. "I didn't notice it straight away, but I do now."

T: 0141 339 9916.

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