My first memory of engaging in meditation seriously was my sophomore year in high school; I don't remember who taught me (probably my aunt, who had been a yoga teacher since the 1970s, and we did a version of it in my sleepaway camp too — the counselors found it effective to calm us down before bedtime), but by the time I was 15, I was doing it regularly.
For me, it was a tool that I desperately needed to deal with my anger and frustration. Yes, I was dealing with some typical teenage angst, but on top of that, I attended a school that I hated — and I had loved school up until that point. Looking back, I can say that I was in the wrong school for me, but at the time, I thought I was going nuts. Meditation helped me get through that miserable period and into a great college that I loved. As an adult, I've found that, at least most of the time, I have benefitted from the overall mindfulness my life-long meditation practice has brought me.
But stories like mine? They are just what are called "anecdata," a portmanteau word made up of anecdote and data. Who knows if my experience as a teenager with meditation is replicable? While personal stories are great, real data of some kind is much more useful. Now we are starting to get some for young people, a population that hasn't been studied as much as adults, for whom meditation has many well-measured results on mental and physical health.
A formerly troubled school in San Francisco, Visitacion Valley Middle School, has been including what they call "Quiet Time" as part of the daily program since 2007. It was the first public school in the United States to do so. Twice a day a gong sounds, and the students settle into 10 minutes of quiet inner reflection. The neighborhood where the school's students come from regularly experiences gun violence (the school employs a full-time grief councelor), and prior to the meditation program, the school had low test scores, graduation rates, stressed-out teachers, and was rowdy and out of control.
According to The San Franciso Chronicle, the results of the schoolwide meditation program have been nothing short of astounding. Check out the real results from this program: "In the first year of Quiet Time, the number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. Within four years, the suspension rate was among the lowest in the city. Daily attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, well above the citywide average. Grade point averages improved markedly. About 20 percent of graduates are admitted to Lowell High School — before Quiet Time, getting any students into this elite high school was a rarity."
And (depending on whom you ask) the most impressive result? In the annual California Health Kids survey, these middle-school students rated themselves more happy than any other school district in San Francisco.
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