“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
In February 2019, we were privileged enough to bring the transformative practice of meditation to children at Islington’s New North Academy. As part of an initiative to support and protect the mental health of children, who are under increasing pressure in the modern world, our meditation lessons for children were featured on ITV and Sky News – an amazing acknowledgement of the importance of stress reduction for children today.
It seems that we learn something new about the troubling impact of modern society has on the mental health of children on a near-monthly basis. Whether it’s the pressure of social media, family financial stress causing anxiety even for the smallest members, or issues such as bullying, children can have a lot to contend with. The knock-on effect on children’s (and the adults they grow into) mental health is profound, requiring urgent efforts across various sectors of society to relieve undue pressure on young people, help them manage their emotions and fully support them as they grow.
Research has found that three in four mental illnesses start in childhood, 10% of children aged 5-16 are suffering from a diagnosed mental health issue and – most worryingly – suicide is the biggest killer for both men and women aged 20-34.
The statistics are stark, but none of this is inevitable. We can work to change things for the better for our children and young people.
When we went into New North Academy, the children chatted a little to ITV news about the things that make them feel stressed. From saying “when there’s so much stuff I need to do, and I can’t do it all at once” to “I keep turning and it’s hard for me to fall asleep”, their experiences of stress are surprisingly adult for kids of just eight years old. The school is planning on making meditation a daily activity to try to reduce this stress, and help kids do what should come most naturally to them – to exist in the moment.
Will Williams, our founder and one of Europe’s leading meditation experts, guided these children in an age-appropriate meditation lesson but believes that the most important thing is rest, saying: “Even if children have a 10 or 15-minute break, they don’t have to meditate – if they just close their eyes and rest or breathe or anything like that, then it helps their brain reboot.” Meditation is a means through which children can find this rest, giving them space in the day where nothing is expected of them and they can simply be.
Teaching children practical skills such as Beeja meditation helps them to recognise and develop into their own unique essence and fullest potential. It helps to activate their creativity and problem-solving skills, increases their brains’ bandwidth and soothes their nervous systems so that they are more resilient when dealing with stress.
When Will appeared on Sky News with Julia Riese, Head of Special Needs at Islington’s New North Academy, they spoke about the prevalence of mental health issues among children and how equipping them with meditation gives them practical tools that will make a huge impact. By reducing stress, improving academic performance and increasing resilience, teaching children meditation sets them up to thrive, and not merely survive.
It is our hope that we can teach as many schools how to meditate for free as possible. This is just the start of what is shaping up to be a huge project that will help our future generations be the happiest, healthiest and most balanced they can be.