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Contemplative education in 21st century - state of current research

Thursday, July 12, 2012


It is exciting to report that last month’s scientific journal Child Development Perspectives devoted its Special Section to Mindfulness Training in Education and Child Development, with five publications reporting on  the issues at the intersection of education, contemplative science and child development.

The overarching theme of this special issue is the necessity of “setting the stage for synergistic collaboration between scientific research on contemplative practice and educational programs designed to foster the cognitive, emotional, social and ethical development of 21st century youth”. Collectively, the papers highlight the need for systematic, adapted practices, which have the potential to induce desirable and positive plastic changes in the developing brains, and call for more focused programmatic research of various practices being implemented in school settings.

This catchy title - contemplative science - has become a cloud term for mindfulness, meditation and yoga research-based practices, which are gaining popularity and scientific validation across many domains, including education, as obviously of particular interest to us at the Yoga 4 Classrooms®. Read our related article on the importance of scientific research in the field of yoga and education here.

Researchers from the Mind and Life Education Research Network published in this Special Section of CDP boldly declare which mental skills and socioemotional dispositions they believe are central to the aims of education in 21st century: cognitive-emotional regulation skills, self-representation and prosocial skills, such as empathy and compassion. With Mind and Life Institute being the leading multidisciplinary intellectual forum dedicated to exploring issues at the intersection of mind, brain, education and contemplative practice, and its core member Richard Davidson being the key figure in contemporary affective and more specifically contemplative neuroscience field, this recommendation cannot be taken too lightly.

According to the researchers published in this issue of Child Development Perspectives, promoting positive youth development through the concept of Social-Emotional learning (SEL) is an important, but not a sufficient step towards improvements in the school culture. An array of transdisciplinary studies explores the prospects for designing age-appropriate forms of secular contemplative trainings that “scaffold the development of executive function, emotion regulation, empathy, and compassion” among children and teachers in educational settings. Incorporating yoga-based programs in educational settings provides complementary and value added benefits beyond such skills-based programs in that it offers a deeper habitual cultivation of lifelong skills promoting well-being in both teachers and children.

Scientists, practitioners and professionals alike state that yoga and mindfulness practices offer a unique combination of activities that work synergistically to address these core issues in the domains of social-emotional learning, self-awareness, coping and resilience, - and thus are well-suited for implementation in the school curriculum. At the Yoga 4 Classrooms, we could not agree more!

Marina Ebert, MA is a ChildLight Yoga Instructor and serves as Director of Research and Relationship Development for Yoga 4 Classrooms. She also is a research assistant at Khalsa Yoga Research Lab at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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