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UK conference explores mindfulness in higher education

UK conference explores mindfulness in higher education

There is a growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness in areas such as health, medicine, schools, prisons, law, and even government. In numerous clinical studies including over 100 randomised controlled trials, its practice has been shown to correlate strongly with greater wellbeing and perceived health as well as physical health. It has also been shown to foster better decision-making and clarity of thought.

Mindfulness – often synonymous with meditation – quietens rumination on abstract thoughts, a habit most of us have in varying degrees. Silencing those thoughts leaves the brain freer to occupy itself with whatever tasks are at hand. Much as an engine cannot operate efficiently when it is clogged up with gunk and dirt, neither can the mind. Mindfulness is the psychological process of focussing exclusively on experiencing the present moment. When done properly, this clears the mind of unnecessary clutter and helps it function at top efficiency.

The scientific veracity of mindfulness’s effectiveness was first established by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Massachusetts Medical School. A molecular biologist, he became interested in mindfulness whilst studying at MIT and went on to found the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program and write some bestselling books on mindfulness. MBSR has been shown to change neuron density in areas of the brain that regulate emotion, learning and memory processes.

It has long been speculated that if mindfulness were introduced into the mainstream of education, the results could be positive. A conference at the University of Warwick, England, last weekend aimed to explore the potential of mindfulness in higher education. Could it be a magic bullet for improving the quality of tutor-student interactions and knowledge retention?

Mindfulness in Health and Higher Education was convened by Warwick’s Medical School and Technology For Health Department. It aimed to explore methods of embedding and teaching mindfulness in higher and professional education settings, with a particular (but not sole) focus upon medical education. The keynote speaker was Dr Craig Hassed, Associate Professor at the University of Monash, who is a pioneer of mindfulness teaching in medicine. The conference was organised by Sarah Stewart Brown, Professor in Public Health at Warwick Medical School. She said, “The conference is particularly focussed on experience of designing, implementing and evaluating mindfulness courses.

“It is thought that trainee doctors, other health professionals, trainee teachers, lawyers and managers can benefit from mindfulness.

“There has been research that indicates fewer medical errors occur and there is less professional ‘burnout’ when doctors practice mindfulness. Research also indicates it encourages greater compassion within teaching and health care. In the short term there is good evidence that mindfulness supports learning and memory so it enhances student performance.”

In a week when the Dalai Lama said that modern education is falling short in its respnsibility to teach compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, this conference is a timely effort to promote mindfulness in higher education.

The University of Warwick runs a Mindfulness Research Network which seeks to promote research in mindfulness by providing an interdisciplinary forum across the university and beyond.

For those interested in an introduction to mindfulness, an excellent place to start is http://mindfulnessexercises.com/.