Mindfulness in Schools

We’ve been contacted by a number of parents concerned about a new programme called ‘Mindfulness’ which is being trialled in a number of schools around NZ. (It’s sometimes called other names such as ‘Pause Breathe Smile‘ or ‘Mindful Eating‘.)

You can read more about the concerns expressed about the programme HERE (Investigate) and HERE (Southland Times) and HEREThe Messy Truth about Mindfulness“. To be fair, there are also complements for the programme HERE (NZ Herald). There is very little research on the effectiveness of the programme in a classroom setting. One study said there is no generalised empirical evidence of the efficacy of these interventions.”

We also received an excellent review of the programme by a concerned parent who sat in on one of the ‘classes’. READ HERE

What is significant is that this programme is being pushed in schools at the same time as Bible-in-schools comes under attack by small groups such as the Secular Education Network – and these same groups suddenly go quiet. It’s called ‘selective offence’ – or hypocrisy!

We also note that the Australian government has just released a major review of the education curriculum, calling for teachers to go ‘back to basics’ on grammar, punctuation and reading. It also says that western civilisation is being demonised in schools. But here’s the best bit –

History should be revised in order to properly recognise the impact and significance of Australia’s Judaeo-Christian heritage.’’

The purpose of this email is simply to remind you of your rights as a parent which we would encourage you to exercise if you wish to. Do not allow the school to fob you off. Are you aware whether this programme is operating in your school?

The EDUCATION ACT 1989 says:
Section 25A Release from tuition on religious or cultural grounds
(1) A student aged 16 and above, or the parent of a student aged under 16, may ask the principal to release the student from tuition in a particular class or subject.
(1A) A request under subsection (1) must be made in writing, and at least 24 hours before the start of the tuition.
(1B) This section applies only to students enrolled at a State school that is not an integrated school.
(2) Unless satisfied that—
(a) the parent or student (as the case may be) has asked because of sincerely held religious or cultural views; and
(b) the student will be adequately supervised (whether within or outside the school) during the tuition,—
the principal shall not release the student.

Note that the right applies based on the views of the family – irrespective of what the Ministry of Education may try and label the programme as. It applies to any class or subject which conflicts with your ‘sincerely held religious or cultural view’.

The HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION report “Religion in NZ Schools” says:
What does the Education Act say about religion in state primary schools? The effect of the Education Act 1964 is that schools do not have to provide religious instruction or observance, but they are permitted to do so under certain conditions. Whether a school includes religion in the day-to-day life of the school or not is up to the school’s Board of Trustees. If a school does provide religious instruction or observe religious customs it must be done in a way that allows students to opt out freely if they want to.
• Section 79 allows children to opt out if their parents do not wish them to participate in religious ceremonies or teaching.

We would encourage parents to exercise their right to withdraw their child/ren from the programme if they are concerned about the “Mindfulness” programme and the way it is operated in the school
, in the same way that we would encourage parents to exercise the same right when groups like Family Planning and Rainbow Youth come in to schools with their dangerous and misleading sex education messages. More information on parents’ rights are on our website HERE

Please remember – it is parents and families, not the schools or the State, who are the Gatekeepers of our children’s minds and hearts.


Mindfulness and meditation can worsen depression and anxiety
New Scientist 14 August 2020
Mindfulness and other types of meditation are usually seen as simple stress-relievers – but they can sometimes leave people worse off. About one in 12 people who try meditation experience an unwanted negative effect, usually a worsening in depression or anxiety, or even the onset of these conditions for the first time, according to the first systematic review of the evidence. “For most people it works fine but it has undoubtedly been overhyped and it’s not universally benevolent,” says Miguel Farias at Coventry University in the UK, one of the researchers behind the work.

They found that about 8 per cent people who try meditation experience an unwanted effect. “People have experienced anything from an increase in anxiety up to panic attacks,” says Farias. They also found instances of psychosis or thoughts of suicide. The figure of 8 per cent may be an underestimate, as many studies of meditation record only serious negative effects or don’t record them at all, says Farias.
Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2251840-mindfulness-and-meditation-can-worsen-depression-and-anxiety/#ixzz6VzV9sE6h

The Messy Truth About Mindfulness
Willoughby Britton: Mindful.org

Willoughby Britton is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University Medical School. She has also been a committed mindfulness practitioner for 20 years. Mindful met up with Britton after the Center for Mindfulness Retreat in Boston in the spring to talk about the theory and practice of mindfulness.

Britton’s research is often quoted by traditional media. Here she is, in her own words, talking about some of the messy truths about mindfulness.

Meditation is not all peace and calm. Sometimes stuff can come up that needs to be dealt with.

Willoughby Britton: The Mindfulness Bug from Mindful Direct on Vimeo.

Meditation is not the “warm bath” it’s been marketed as in this country, Britton says.

“A lot of psychological material is going to come up and be processed. Old resentments, wounds, that kind of thing,” says Britton, “But also some traumatic material if people have a trauma history, it can come up and need additional support or even therapy.” Some of Britton’s research is making headway into understanding “difficult or challenging mind states” among advanced meditators and scholars that can occur as a result of intensive meditation practice.

When Britton is approached by educators who want to bring mindfulness to their schools, she attaches a warning: “Be prepared to be wildly successful.” Britton says she’s seen students at Brown get so excited that they spend their summer meditating in the forest, 12 hours a day.

“[Meditation leaders] should take responsibility for that and make sure students have some supervision,” she says.

Is mindfulness making us ill?
The Guardian (UK) 23 Jan 2016
….A 1992 study by David Shapiro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that 63% of the group studied, who had varying degrees of experience in meditation and had each tried mindfulness, had suffered at least one negative effect from meditation retreats, while 7% reported profoundly adverse effects including panic, depression, pain and anxiety. Shapiro’s study was small-scale; several research papers, including a 2011 study by Duke University in North Carolina, have raised concerns at the lack of quality research on the impact of mindfulness, specifically the lack of controlled studies.

Research suggests her experience might not be unique. Internet forums abound with people seeking advice after experiencing panic attacks, hearing voices or finding that meditation has deepened their depression after some initial respite. In their recent book, The Buddha Pill, psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm voice concern about the lack of research into the adverse effects of meditation and the “dark side” of mindfulness. “Since the book’s been published, we’ve had a number of emails from people wanting to tell us about adverse effects they have experienced,” Wikholm says. “Often, people have thought they were alone with this, or they blamed themselves, thinking they somehow did it wrong, when actually it doesn’t seem it’s all that uncommon.”

Farias feels that media coverage inflates the moderate positive effects of mindfulness, and either doesn’t report or underplays the downsides. “Mindfulness can have negative effects for some people, even if you’re doing it for only 20 minutes a day,” Farias says. “It’s difficult to tell how common [negative] experiences are, because mindfulness researchers have failed to measure them, and may even have discouraged participants from reporting them by attributing the blame to them.”

…. There is currently no professionally accredited training for mindfulness teachers, and nothing to stop anyone calling themselves a mindfulness coach, though advocates are calling for that to change. Finding an experienced teacher who comes recommended, and not being afraid to discuss negative side-effects with your teacher or GP, means you’re far more likely to enjoy and benefit from the experience.

Mindfulness can cause panic, depression and anxiety, participants report
Christian Concern 29 January 2016
Mindfulness is increasingly becoming the relaxation method of choice, used not only by individuals but by employers and health services. Despite claims that the practice, which involves being still and focusing on one’s breathing and thoughts, can help to tackle stress and depression, critics have attested to its negative effects – suggesting that it is not simply a harmless way to unwind.

Dr Peter Jones of truthXchange has spoken about the Buddhist roots of mindfulness, explaining that the process of meditation, which effectively silences the conscience, actually creates a mindset “very opposite to the Christian faith”.

Studies have also shown that mindfulness can cause adverse effects. In 1992, one researcher, David Shapiro of the University of California, Irvine, found that 7% of those who practiced mindfulness experienced serious negative reactions, such as panic and depression. Several people have described their personal negative experiences of mindfulness, reporting these same feelings of panic, depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness may not be doing you good
The Conversation 5 June 2015
Mindfulness as a psychological aid is very much in fashion. Recent reports on the latest finding suggested that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is as effective as anti-depressants in preventing the relapse of recurrent depression.

While the authors of the paper interpreted their results in a slightly less positive light, stating that (contrary to their hypothesis) mindfulness was no more effective than medication, the meaning inferred by many in the media was that mindfulness was superior to medication.

Mindfulness is a technique extracted from Buddhism where one tries to notice present thoughts, feeling and sensations without judgement. The aim is to create a state of “bare awareness”. What was once a tool for spiritual exploration has been turned into a panacea for the modern age — a cure-all for common human problems, from stress, to anxiety, to depression. By taking this “natural pill” every day, we open ourselves up to the potential for myriad benefits and no ill-effects, unlike synthetic pills, such as anti-depressants, whose potential for negative side-effects we are all aware of.

Side effects
Mindfulness is presented as a technique that will have lots of positive effects – and only positive effects. It is easy to see why this myth is so widespread. After all, sitting in silence, focusing on your breathing or being aware of the flow of thoughts and feelings would seem like a fairly innocuous activity with little potential for harm.

But considering that many of us rarely sit alone with our thoughts, it isn’t hard to see how this might lead to difficult thoughts and emotions rising to the surface for some people – which we may, or may not, be equipped to deal with. Yet the potential for emotional and psychological disturbance is rarely talked about by mindfulness researchers, the media, or mentioned in training courses.

And here we come to an important point. Buddhist meditation was designed not to make us happier, but to radically change our sense of self and perception of the world. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that some will experience negative effects such as dissociation, anxiety and depression. However, like the small print on medication, these “side-effects” in some individuals are not what the creators of this pill are concerned with promoting.

For some, penicillin is life saving; for others, it induces a harmful reaction. Just because your friend or family member responds to a pill a certain way, does not mean you will respond in the same way. The same is also true with mindfulness: for some, it may be very effective or it may not work at all, for others, there may be harmful effects.

Mindfulness has been separated from its roots, stripped of its ethical and spiritual connotations, and sold to us as a therapeutic tool. While this may not deny its power as a technique to change our state of consciousness and with implications for mental health, it arguably limits its “naturalness”, as well as its potential – at least as originally intended.

Many Buddhists are critical of the use of mindfulness for purposes which are very different from the radical shift in perception they aim for — the realisation of “emptiness” and liberation from all attachments. Instead, as Giles Coren recently claimed, this technique has been turned into a McMindfulness which only reinforces one’s egocentric drives.

The idea that each of us is unique is a cornerstone of individual-based therapy. But with mindfulness-based approaches there is little space for one’s individuality, in part because it’s a group practice, but also because there has been no serious attempt to address how individuals react differently to this technique.

So if you go into it – as with taking any other kind of pill – keep your eyes open. Don’t consume mindfulness blindly.

Panic, depression and stress: The case against meditation
NewScientist 14 May 2015
Twitching, trembling, panic, disorientation, hallucinations, terror, depression, mania and psychotic breakdown – these are some of the reported effects of meditation. Surprised? We were too.

Techniques such as transcendental meditation and mindfulness are promoted as ways of quieting the mind, alleviating pain and anxiety, and even transforming you into a happier and more compassionate person: natural cure-alls without adverse effects. But happiness and de-stressing were not what meditation techniques, with their Buddhist and Hindu roots, were originally developed for. The purpose of meditation was much more radical: to challenge and rupture the idea of who you are, shaking one’s sense of self to the core so you realise there is “nothing there” (Buddhism) or no real differentiation between you and the rest of the universe (Hinduism). So perhaps it is not so surprising that these practices have downsides. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630210.500-panic-depression-and-stress-the-case-against-meditation.html

Mindfulness – Treatment can trigger mania, depression and psychosis
MailOnline 22 May 2015
Meditation and mindfulness is promoted by celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow and Russell Brand, who boast of its power to help people put stress out of their minds and live for the moment. But the treatment can itself trigger mania, depression, hallucinations and psychosis, psychological studies in the UK and US have found. The practice is part of a growing movement based on ancient Eastern traditions of meditation.

However, 60 per cent of people who had been on a meditation retreat had suffered at least one negative side effect, including panic, depression and confusion, a study in the US found. And one in 14 of them suffered ‘profoundly adverse effects’, according to Miguel Farias, head of the brain, belief and behaviour research group at Coventry University and Catherine Wikholm, a researcher in clinical psychology at the University of Surrey.

The shortage of rigorous statistical studies into the negative effects of meditation was a ‘scandal’, Dr Farias told The Times. He said: ‘The assumption of the majority of both TM [transcendental meditation] and mindfulness researchers is that meditation can only do one good.

The Mindfulness Backlash
New York Times 30 June 2014
Mindfulness has reached such a level of hipness that it is now suggested as a cure for essentially every ailment. Anxious? Broke? Sneezing? Definitely try meditating.

This vogue is in part due to the real benefits of mindfulness, a form of attention and awareness often (but not always) achieved through meditation or yoga. It’s a trend for a reason. But its increasing application to every situation under the sun has some people concerned.

In The Atlantic, Tomas Rocha writes about the little-discussed possibility that, for some people, meditation could actually be dangerous. He talks to Dr. Willoughby Britton, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior who works with people who feel they’ve been harmed by meditation — one man described going through “psychological hell” as a result of his practice, while another worried he was “permanently ruined.” Dr. Britton has tracked “dark nights of the soul” — spiritual experiences that are frightening rather than calming — across a variety of religious texts, and she believes that meditation’s potential ill effects have been under-studied. Mr. Rocha writes:

“Many people think of meditation only from the perspective of reducing stress and enhancing executive skills such as emotion regulation, attention, and so on. “For Britton, this widespread assumption — that meditation exists only for stress reduction and labor productivity, ‘because that’s what Americans value’ — narrows the scope of the scientific lens. When the time comes to develop hypotheses around the effects of meditation, the only acceptable — and fundable — research questions are the ones that promise to deliver the answers we want to hear.”

Mindfulness backlash: Could meditation be bad for your health?
The Telegraph 24 October 2015
Convinced by studies (such as that by Oxford University in 2014, which found the technique can reduce depression relapses by 44 per cent), the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) now recommends mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression.

The Mental Health Foundation estimates that 30 per cent of GPs refer patients with mental health issues for mindfulness-based treatment. Persuaded by claims of stress reduction and increased mental clarity, mindfulness has been eagerly adopted by huge companies including Google, Apple, Sony, Ikea and the Department of Health. Mindfulness-based anger management is offered to inmates in prison, and there are calls for mindfulness training to become mandatory in schools.

A good teacher will help you make sense of what emerges through meditation.” Dr Tamara Russell, founder of The Mindfulness Centre of Excellence.

“Beneficial findings are overstated in some media reports, whereas studies without the expected results go under the radar. This leads to a skewed picture, wherein the enthusiasm may be ahead of the evidence. Currently, with mindfulness, the evidence is not necessarily consistent or conclusive.”

When Farias and Wikholm began researching The Buddha Pill, they were astonished at the paucity of solid studies on the benefits. Then their own research threw up surprising evidence that mindfulness has a range of outcomes – not all positive.

“To some, this will be blissful relaxation, but for others the outcome will be emotional distress, hallucinations or perhaps even ending up in a psychiatric ward,” says Farias. “David Shapiro of the University of California, Irvine, found that seven per cent of people on meditation retreats experienced profoundly adverse effects, including panic and depression.” Psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm, co-authors of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?

“Mindfulness and meditation are bad for people. People should be thinking… Life is about going out there and meeting people and hearing their thoughts.” Oxford University professor Theodore Zeldin

The Dark Knight of the Soul
The Atlantic 24 June 2014
In late January this year, Time magazine featured a cover story on “the mindful revolution,” an account of the extent to which mindfulness meditation has diffused into the largest sectors of modern society. Used by “Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 titans, Pentagon chiefs, and more,” mindfulness meditation is promoted as a means to help Americans work mindfully, eat mindfully, parent mindfully, teach mindfully, take standardized tests mindfully, spend money mindfully, and go to war mindfully. What the cover story did not address are what might be called the revolution’s “dirty laundry.”

“We’re not being thorough or honest in our study of contemplative practice,” says Britton.

The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training for Children with ADHD and Mindful Parenting for their Parents
Journal of Child and Family Studies Feb 2011
This study evaluated the effectiveness of an 8-week mindfulness training for children aged 8–12 with ADHD and parallel mindful parenting training for their parents. Parents (N = 22) completed questionnaires on their child’s ADHD and ODD symptoms, their own ADHD symptoms, parenting stress, parental over-reactivity, permissiveness and mindful awareness before, immediately after the 8-week training and at 8-week follow-up. Teachers reported on ADHD and ODD behaviour of the child. A within-group waitlist was used to control for the effects of time and repeated measurement. Training was delivered in group format. There were no significant changes between wait-list and pre-test, except on the increase of teacher-rated ODD behaviour. There was a significant reduction of parent-rated ADHD behaviour of themselves and their child from pre-to post-test and from pre- to follow-up test. Further, there was a significant increase of mindful awareness from pre-to post-test and a significant reduction of parental stress and over-reactivity from pre-to follow-up test. Teacher-ratings showed non-significant effects. Our study shows preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness for children with ADHD and their parents, as rated by parents. However, in the absence of substantial effects on teacher-ratings, we cannot ascertain effects are due to specific treatment procedures. (our emphasis added)

FURTHER READING: Parental Rights in NZ Regarding “Mindfulness”