BY LINDA EGENES

Fifty years ago, the US educational system scored the highest in high school graduation rates among twenty-seven industrialized nations. Today, we rank twenty-second, with dropout rates of 27 percent. And for underserved African-American and Hispanic students in urban schools across the nation, the dropout rates are much, much worse—close to 40 percent.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

As you would expect, the rest of the numbers don’t look good either. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which functions as a kind of nation’s report card, the US is flunking. Two out of three eighth-graders can’t read proficiently. Nearly two-thirds of eighth-graders scored below proficient in math.

Yet there are bright lights in the educational landscape. In some of our most troubled schools, students, administrators, and teachers have implemented a program called Quiet Time, which allows students to be quiet, read, or practice meditation for ten minutes twice a day on school time. The Transcendental Meditation technique is one of the options for Quiet Time.

Recent research shows that Quiet Time is having a positive impact, with one urban school reporting an increase in attendance to 98.6 percent, an 86 percent drop in suspension, and a 42-point gain in academic performance on state tests. Research on the Quiet Time program in other troubled urban schools reveals equally impressive results, with reduced symptoms of ADHD and other learning disorders, 40 percent reduction in psychological distress, and 65 percent decrease in violent conflict over two years. And yes—one study showed a 15 percent improvement in graduation rates.

“The Quiet Time program helped us change the predictive power of demographics,” says a principal of an embattled West Coast, urban school.

But how does it work?

A Surge-Protector against Stress

“All of us have kids you try to teach but their heads are down on the desk,” says the now retired superintendent of a school district that was one of the first to bring Quiet Time into its schools. “They’re out of it while you’re trying to teach. Why? Because of their lives. Because of stress.”

According to an American Psychological Association survey, 27 percent of adolescents report feeling extremely anxious during the school year. One in three children are obese and 11 percent have been diagnosed with ADHD. All of these problems are related to stress—and all can hamper a child’s learning ability.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

For instance, a new study published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology found that TM significantly decreased psychological distress in public school students. The study, conducted with at-risk, minority, secondary-school students, showed a 36 percent reduction in overall psychological distress. Significant decreases were also found in trait anxiety and depressive symptoms.

One thing is clear to researchers and educators alike: lessening the stress can have a positive impact on mental health, heart health, and academic achievement.

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Increased Academic Achievement and Graduation Rates

It turns out our nation’s middle schools are especially vulnerable to the double whammy of stress and low academic achievement—and for at-risk kids in urban schools, the scores are much lower than the nation’s norms.

Yet the journal Education recently reported that students from an urban middle school saw their academic achievement improve when they experienced more inner quietness and less stress after the introduction of the Quiet Time program with the TM option.

“These initial research studies, showing the benefits of the Quiet Time program on reducing stress and raising academic achievement, hold promise for public education,” says Sanford Nidich, EdD, professor of education and lead investigator of both studies. “The findings suggest that there is a practical, value-added, educational program which can help low-performing minority students begin to close the achievement gap.”

Another pioneering study focused on graduation rates in an East Coast, urban high school. Graduation rates are the litmus test of educational success—and recent data shows that only 69 percent of students graduate from our nation’s schools.

“Urban schools on the whole tend to suffer from a range of factors that contribute to poor student academic performance and low graduation rates,” says lead author Robert D. Colbert, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Connecticut.

Results showed a 15 percent higher graduation rate for a group that was practicing the TM technique as compared to non-meditating controls. The largest effect was found in the most academically challenged students, with a 25 percent increase in graduation rates.

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Results showed a 15 percent higher graduation rate for a group that was practicing the TM technique as compared to non-meditating controls. The largest effect was found in the most academically challenged students, with a 25 percent increase in graduation rates.

Findings also showed that meditating students were less apt to drop out from school or enter prison, and were more likely to be accepted to post-secondary institutions.

Better Brain Power

Researchers now understand that stress also affects concentration, focus, and other functions of the developing brain.

For example, researchers today understand that problems such as ADHD, the inability to control attention, are caused by underdevelopment or underutilization of the prefrontal cortex, which shuts down under stress. By addressing that stress, students can bring about a marked and highly visible increase in the coherent functioning of their brains.

In a landmark study published in Current Issues in Education, researchers Grosswald, Stixrud, and Travis looked at brain functioning of children with ADHD who practiced the TM technique, as compared to controls.

“In just six months, the brain functioning of the meditating students had moved from being solidly within clinical ADHD symptoms to just within normal brain functioning,” says Dr. Travis, Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition.

“What that means in practical terms is that they were able to start self-regulating both physical and mental impulses,” he says. “So, for example, they were able to remember to raise their hand before speaking.”

Based on these initial findings, Dr. Travis and his colleagues decided to look at brain wave coherence, as measured by EEG, to find out if the practice of TM could help children with ADHD develop a more integrated brain functioning.

“In this random-assignment pilot study of children with ADHD aged eleven to fourteen, we saw significant increases in coherence in all parts of the brain in four frequency bands,” says Dr. Travis. “This means the brain is ceasing to function as isolated modules and is beginning to function more as a whole.”

Dr. Travis explains that integrated brain functioning results in improved focus on schoolwork, organizational abilities, ability to work independently, level of happiness, and quality of sleep.

“The TM group also improved in something called ‘letter fluency,’ which measures the ability of the frontal lobes to generate many new ideas, to be more creative,” he says.

Solution to Teacher Burnout

It’s not only the kids who are stressed these days. Half of new teachers bow out after just five years on the job, says the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. This is especially a problem in urban schools, where a higher turnover rate results in a higher percentage of under-qualified teachers.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, it’s teacher burnout that is causing teachers to flee.

So once again, stress is the culprit. Just as it’s hard for teachers to teach stressed kids, it’s equally hard for kids to learn if their teachers are depressed, anxious, scattered, or sick from an overload of stress.

Fortunately, TM can be equally effective in helping teachers as it is with students. A randomized, controlled study recently published in the Permanente Journal was conducted over four months at the Bennington School in Vermont, a special, in-residence school for students with behavioral problems.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

“The four-month study found significant and clinically important decreases in perceived stress, emotional exhaustion associated with teacher burnout, and depressive symptoms in those practicing the TM program compared to a wait-list control group.” —Dr. Charles Elder, MD, MPH

“The results of this randomized, controlled trial are very striking and demonstrate the utility of introducing a stress reduction program for teachers and other public and private employees,” says Dr. Charles Elder, MD, MPH, a Senior Physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at Kaiser Permanente Northwest and the lead author of the study. “The four-month study found significant and clinically important decreases in perceived stress, emotional exhaustion associated with teacher burnout, and depressive symptoms in those practicing the TM program compared to a wait-list control group.”

Change Begins Within

To help underserved kids learn, acclaimed movie director David Lynch established the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace in 2005. To date, it has awarded scholarships to over a hundred thousand at-risk students around the world, including the Quiet Time programs in Detroit, Phoenix, Los Angeles, New York, New Haven, Chicago, and Washington, DC. In addition to funding research, the DLF also funds programs for prisoners, veterans with PTSD, victims of domestic violence, and the homeless to learn the TM technique and start a new life of positive transformation.

David Lynch is passionate about helping kids reduce stress, succeed in school, and follow their dreams. “In today’s world of fear and uncertainty, every child should have two short class periods a day to dive deep within themselves and experience the field of silence and inner happiness —the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us,” he says. “This is the way to save the coming generation.”

Now there are dozens of other schools waiting for funding to implement the Quiet Time program.

For the school administrators and teachers who have seen their schools transformed with Quiet Time, it’s a program that holds great promise for educating children and providing them with an immensely valuable tool for life.

“The research is showing us that the experience of restful alertness provided by TM is an important educational experience that promotes learning, reduces violence, and supports healthy psychological development,” says Dr. Jamie Grant, National Director of Programs for the David Lynch Foundation. “This experience belongs in schools everywhere.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 23. Reprinted with permission.)

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BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_0077I had never heard of the word “childism” before reading Claudia M. Gold’s review of the book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children by the late author Elisabeth Young-Bruehl.

Young-Breuhl, an analyst, political theorist and biographer, calls attention to the way human rights of children are threatened in America today. Childism is defined as “a prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs.”

These are strong words, hard to apply to the parents I know. Yet when she cites the growing epidemic of ADHD and now bipolar disorder among our nation’s children, and the way that children are routinely medicated into acquiescent behavior, Young-Breuhl can’t help but wonder if children are being properly represented in our society.

She also wonders why children and families are not given more support in our society. The scarcity of social services for kids (and the fact that pediatricians, pediatric child-care workers and school teachers are among the lowest paid professionals in America) are contributing factors to childism.

Not to mention that in other developed countries, there are much lower rates of child abuse and neglect, a phenomenon that Young-Bruehl attributes to the widely available social services available to help troubled children and troubled families. In many other developed countries, she writes, “children have a range of preventative and development-oriented services: universal health care, health services, and parent support services in homes after the birth of a child; maternal and parental leaves for infant care; developmental preschool programs; after-school programs; and economic supports of various kinds.”

While I had never thought of America as being prejudiced against children (on the contrary, I thought of us as being a child-centered society), no one can dispute that parents in this country are pretty much on their own when it comes to raising their kids, even when both parents work outside the home, and even when single mothers earn the living and care for their children at the same time.

As Dr. Gold points out, childism in America is a societal problem, not a failing of most parents. “Most individual parents, given the opportunity to be heard and supported, are not childist,” writes Dr. Gold. “They long to help their children, not merely control them.” Yet when behavioral problems arise, parents are left with few choices.

The problem can be summed up in one sentence of Young-Breuhl’s, that “children whose development is not being supported cannot be protected.” As the great social reformer and statesman Frederick Douglass observed, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

There are, of course, a wide range of causes of health problems in children, such as poor diet, genetics and toxic stress. Toxic stress is defined by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child as “severe, uncontrollable, chronic adversity.” Experiencing toxic stress while in the womb or during early childhood can be a major cause of mental and physical illness later in life—and even is thought to disrupt the architecture of the brain. As research on the developing child continues to grow, organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) are pushing for a fundamental change in America’s early childhood policies and services to help prevent the effects of toxic stress on children.

Until that happens, families can take a big step in preventing both everyday stress and toxic stress by learning stress-reduction methods such as the Transcendental Meditation technique. Children are sensitive to a mother’s stress and reportedly have higher stress themselves when the mother is overworked, anxious or depressed. So moms who practice the TM technique twice a day can help reduce stress in themselves and their children.

The Transcendental Meditation technique is easy to learn and effortless to practice, and parents find it’s a powerfully effective stress buster. Research reveals that TM practice produces a state of profound relaxation, much deeper than ordinary rest and accompanied by increased alertness and orderly brain function. Regular practice results in decreased anxiety and depression, reduced insomnia and hypertension.

And for your average kid who may not be suffering from toxic stress, TM is a gentle way to lessen the everyday stress caused by peer pressure, academic competition and family stress. When children meditate, their grades improve without more effort. It makes sense—when your mind is more calm, you can learn without struggle.

TM is also a proven way to reduce ADHD without harmful side effects. Recent studies found that students with ADHD who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique showed significant reduction of ADHD symptoms within three to six months. And girls with ADHD need help just as much as boys. Girls often go undiagnosed and untreated because ADHD symptoms in girls manifest more as a quieter inability to focus rather than the more obvious disruptive behavior typically found in boys with ADHD.

Cognitive learning expert Sarina Grosswald, EdD, has led pioneering research on ADHD and meditation. Dr. Grosswald explains that Transcendental Meditation works very differently from how the drugs work. “Meditation is not a quick fix. But, over time, TM allows the brain to create the neural connections that correct the underlying problem. The drug is an immediate fix because it’s an amphetamine, but when it wears off, the problem remains—the lack of brain integration.”

The TM technique is a cost-effective approach that can be a lifelong tool for managing ADHD and it’s many challenges while improving IQ, academic achievement, and better relationships between children and their peers, family members and teachers. Best of all, unlike medication, the TM technique has no negative side effects.

Other learning disabilities can also be helped through TM, such as dyslexia. Having struggled with severe dyslexia since childhood, Dana Farley, now a college graduate, says, “I had a lot of insecurities when it came to school. Since starting TM in high school, I’m not putting myself down all the time. The negative thoughts just don’t appear. Instead of thinking, ‘I can’t do this’ I’m thinking ‘Why not?’”

Learning the Transcendental Meditation technique is a way to empower children of all ages from within—and that is the opposite of childism.

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Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, May 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

Photo by Linda Egenes

 

Raising Healthy Children
April 17, 2012
Super Healthy Kids: A Parent's Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda

Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda

Here is my friend Jane Dean’s book review of  SUPER HEALTHY KIDS: A PARENT’S GUIDE TO MAHARISHI AYURVEDA. Jane  is a writer and former radio host who is the executive assistant to the Director of Maharishi  School of the Age of Enlightenment and mother of two. In the past three years she has traveled to 17 different countries to promote Consciousness Based Education.

Personally, I loved this book.  Everything I learned about Maharishi Ayurveda over 20 years is comprehensively explained in Super Healthy Kids.  I advise you to read it through once and then take another stroll through each chapter (with a marker and some post-it notes). Dr. Reddy and Linda Egenes make a good argument that Maharishi Ayurveda is an effective, sensible and cost effective approach to taking care of children.   It is simple to read for the newcomer to Maharishi Ayurveda.  It is also great for parents who need a reference guide on Ayurveda. Super Healthy Kids is packed with patient’s stories, simple charts and scientific research.  Among its advantages the book has great recipes and a charming bedtime story.

Throughout the book Dr. Reddy tells the stories of her patients, all children, who have benefited from Maharishi Ayurveda mostly with a simple change of diet or a change in daily routine.  The book is, in fact, a text on a complex ancient health care system so it is not light reading.  Dr. Reddy describes how the doshas (the three dominant trends in the human body) emerge from the five elements.  She then elaborates on why each child is a unique individual with a unique health profile.  Dr. Reddy gives a detailed overview of the biology and sequence of digestion and assimilation.  This fascinating but exhaustive detail helps the parent understand the vital role good digestion plays in creating the building blocks that create healthy blood, healthy fat, healthy muscles and healthy bone tissues in a growing child.

Dr. Reddy and I relax together during her visit to Fairfield in June 2011

There are four complete chapters dedicated to the ideal daily routine of a child.  They include bedtime routines, wake-up routines and exercise.  Reddy goes a bit further and explains that a cohesive and peaceful family environment is fundamental.  She backs up her arguments against TV and video games with scientific research on the brain and recommends cultivating a softer, richly stimulating family environment.

Reddy and Egenes give a fresh perspective on the prevention of sickness. They show us how Maharishi Ayurveda health and life style habits create health in childhood and beyond.