Low-performing students - that is, students showing “below basic” and “far below basic” levels of academic performance benefit by practicing meditation, according to a study conducted by Dr. Sanford Nidich of the Maharishi University of Management. In particular, meditation was shown to improve both math and English achievement in low-performing students.
189 California middle-school students were tested over a one-year period, before and after receiving instruction in Transcendental Meditation. Educators and researchers used the California Standard Test to evaluate changes in academic achievement. The results were extremely promising.
41% of the students who practiced Transcendental Meditation were able to gain at least one performance level in overall academic achievement. Dr. Nidich suggests that this easy, low-cost technique would add great value to the educational system. But the researchers weren’t the only ones impressed with the results of the study.
Teachers also praised the effect that meditation had on students. They found that students who meditated were happier, less hyperactive, calmer and more focused. Their new ability to focus, remain focused, and exhibit self-control likely influenced their improved academic performance.
The benefits extended beyond the classroom into the school environment as a whole, as the meditating students generally exhibited better self-control than non-mediating students. According to school faculty, the learning atmosphere has enhanced significantly since the T.M. program was implemented.
Study co-author Dr. Ronald Zigler of Pennsylvania State University said, “the results of the study provide support to a recent trend in education focusing on student mind/body development for academic achievement.”
The way meditation promotes self control and greater focus is simple (and the results apply for all types of meditation; they are not exclusive to Transcendental Meditation).
Relaxation of the body and mind promotes the release of serotonin, melatonin and endorphins, the body’s “feel-good” hormones. It also inhibits the release of adrenaline, nonadrenalin and cortisol, the stress hormones. When a person feels calm, they are better able to focus, avoid distraction and not become easily agitated or angry. This naturally promotes better learning.
The self-control learned by meditation comes from two learned skills: control of the body (sitting still and not giving in to any urges to get up or to fidget) and control of the mind.
Controlling or mastering the mind has far-reaching implications in a person’s life. If you can control your thoughts, you are less likely to become swept up in negativity. If you can control your emotions, you are better able to respond to a situation calmly rather than react emotionally.
Yet another aspect of meditation that enhances academic performance is stress relief. All students, and especially low-achieving students, can become very stressed and even depressed about their performance during tests. As they lose hope, their stress and depression can spiral out of control - so the positive, calm feelings elicited by a meditation practice can make students feel more in control, more capable and less affected by emotional distress due to poor performance.
Self-confidence and self-control naturally help with academic performance, so a meditation practice is well worth the time investment in any educational setting.