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Meditation Earns High Marks

Preteens who learn to quiet their minds enjoy greater self-esteem, a recent study has found.

By Andrea Menzie

"It gives you a boost in the morning," says eighth grader Kenia Bradley about the meditation practice she has learned at school. "When you don't meditate, you get tired during your classes."

There's no proof that sitting practice improves kids' grades. But a recent University of Michigan pilot study suggests that students who practice Transcendental Meditation (TM) at school may be happier and have higher self-esteem than their counterparts who don't meditate.

The study, the first to involve African American children and TM, examined 83 sixth graders at two charter schools in the Detroit area. At the Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse, the children were each given an individual mantra and taught how to meditate using it. (In TM, the mantras used are not words but sounds without specific meaning.) They practiced twice during the school day—10 minutes at the beginning and end of each day. Students at the control-group school didn't meditate at all.

TM was chosen because it was considered one of the easier practices for youngsters to understand, according to meditation instructor Jane Pitt, who taught the Nataki Talibah students. Unlike many other meditation practices, she says, TM is not a concentration process or an exercise in contemplation or focus, but simply a gentle method of quieting the mind.

Four months after the sixth graders learned TM, researchers scored them and the nonmeditating students on several scales, including loneliness, emotional competence, self-esteem, positive affectivity, anxiety, and aggression. The meditators scored higher in the areas of emotional competence, self-esteem, and positive affectivity, though there was no significant difference between the groups in the other areas.

The Nataki Talibah pupils were actually taught to meditate as part of the school curriculum before the research began. Then Rita Benn, lead researcher and director of education at the Integrative Medicine Program at UM's Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Center, evaluated them. While the study doesn't provide conclusive evidence of TM's effects on every one of its practitioners, Benn says it does suggest that TM is good for emotional development in early adolescent African American children.

Benn isn't planning to assess meditation's influence on overall academic achievement. But she would like to investigate other forms of meditation and yoga to see if they are helpful to children. Meanwhile, Pitt confirms the all-important anecdotal info that after learning to meditate, "many of the students felt their studies were better."


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