As I prepared for the day, I let the video news feed play on a major network’s website. When I sat down with my cup of tea, I picked up my iPad. A video was streaming. Playing on this video were images I had never seen before. I saw a gymnasium full of young African American and Latino children doing the yoga ‘bridge’ pose. There were three yoga teachers who were helping the children with their poses. These teachers were Brothers Ali and Atman Smith and Andres Gonzalez, founders of the Holistic Life Foundation. As part of the foundation’s Stress and Mindfulness Curriculum, children participating in the 24-week curriculum learn to use yoga and meditation as tools to calm the mind and relax the body through the practice of “mindfulness.” A randomized research study focused on the stress reduction and mindfulness curriculum and its effects on children. Findings suggest that children who participated in the program have more awareness and control of thoughts, emotions and behaviors (Mendelson et al., 2010). Further analysis is exploring how these outcomes affect academic performance and social skills in the classroom setting.
The Holistic Life Foundation has something to teach the teachers, researchers, and designers. This program is remarkable for so many reasons. As a former K-12 teacher in Chicago, I witnessed the effects of stress on a child’s ability to learn and build healthy relationships. The levels of anxiety that many children lived with day in and day out were the result of living in poverty, violence, and for some children, the threat of or the effects of deportation of family members.
So what does this have to do with technology?
As our children become more networked to information, images and people from all over the world, and as they may sit immobilized in front of a computer or TV, cognitively, they will be bombarded with images, information and situations that can be at times overwhelming to the mind. Physically, the body will be neglected and repetitive stress injuries may plague a young person for the rest of their lives. These stressors can make building healthy relationships, attention and engagement in face to face settings very challenging for young people and adults!
As researchers, designers, educators and parents think about how people learn and the best conditions to support this learning, we must also not take for granted the need for an open mind and the emotional intelligence needed to support learning. The ability to “unplug” and connect with the mind and body is essential to being healthy and thriving within a digitally and non-digitally networked world. Awareness of the mind and body will lead to healthier interactions, and relationships both online and offline.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?