“Teen drinking may cause irreversible brain damage: A recent study by neuroscientist Susan Tapert of the University of California, San Diego, compared the brain scans of teens who drink heavily with the scans of teens who don’t. Tapert’s team found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of the teens who drank. The researchers believe this damage negatively affects attention span in boys, and girls’ ability to comprehend and interpret visual information.”
—National Public Radio
Doctors used to say, “It’s all in the mind.” Now they add, “It’s also in the brain.”
That’s because every experience changes your brain.
Sleep six hours, balance your checkbook, write a poem, drink too much alcohol, pray, meditate, shoot a free throw, do a line of cocaine, fast, overeat, listen to music, play music, watch a movie, make a movie…
Each of these distinct experiences changes your brain in unique ways—sometimes healthy, sometimes damaging.
My desire to bring meditation to schools peaked when I heard about studies conducted on students who meditate—in particular, research on how Transcendental Meditation impacts the brain of students in very positive ways.
My friend and meditation teacher, Bob Roth, a national director with the David Lynch Foundation, pointed out a new study on the brain wave patterns of meditating college students, which was conducted at American University in Washington, D.C., and published last month in the scientific journal, Cognitive Processing. The study found that when students practice Transcendental Meditation, their whole brain functions in a far more “coherent” manner. That means the left and right sides (hemispheres) of the brain, and the front and back of the brain, which are often disconnected, communicate much better during TM practice. In the technical language of the researchers, there were also higher “alpha” brain waves (which means greater inner wakefulness), along with smaller “beta” and “gamma” waves (which means deeper inner relaxation).
Brain researchers suggest that everything good about the brain depends upon its coherent functioning. That means solving complicated problems, making wise decisions, exercising good judgment, acting ethically, and knowing who you are (your sense of self) all depend upon how well your brain is working.
So here’s my point: Education should be about much more than just cramming a kid’s brain with a boatload of facts and figures. For students, the mounting pressure to memorize, memorize, memorize has become close to intolerable—dangerously combustible. It’s also literally killing many young people. Ten million children are on antidepressants, five million kids have been diagnosed with learning disorders such as ADHD, and the number three cause of death among teenagers is suicide.
Yes, violence is killing our kids and drugs are killing our kids, but toxic levels of stress are fueling the violence and drugs that are killing our kids.
So in addition to delivering top quality information, education should also develop the brain. It should expand a student’s ability to learn, absorb, and apply the information that teachers teach in class. It should give students the tools to manage and overcome stress, to know who they are—to actually like who they are.
The fact is, meditating kids use more of the brain’s potential. They have higher test scores and better grades; consume less alcohol and drugs; and have fewer suspensions and expulsions, lower dropout rates, and higher graduation rates compared to nonmeditating kids.
But just as important, research suggests that
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