Mindfulness Improves Teachers’ Well-Being

New research looks at the impact of mindfulness on classrooms, stress, and even magic mushrooms.

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Mindfulness for educators improves well-being

Nearly 85% of school teachers say they’re facing burnout. Eight weeks of mindfulness-based instruction may reduce stress, increase sleep, and promote health and well-being even weeks later, a new study finds.

Led by researchers at the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education at Australian Catholic University, educators in 20 Australian schools volunteered to participate in a school-based study. Eighty-five teachers from 10 schools attended an eight-week mindfulness-based program. Another 100 teachers from 10 different schools did not.

After eight weeks, teachers who’d practiced mindfulness reported less stress, better sleep, and more mindfulness,  self-compassion, and ability to use thoughts to help regulate emotions, compared to controls. There were no differences between the groups in teachers’ perceptions of their ability to engage students, provide effective instruction, or manage behavior in class, but students said they felt more connected to teachers who’d completed the program than those who hadn’t.

Mixing meditation and magic mushrooms 

In a new study published in NeuroImage, scientists at the University of Zurich explore whether combining meditation with psilocybin—the chemical in magic mushrooms—may impact brain function and alter self-consciousness even after the high is gone.

Thirty-eight experienced adult meditators were randomly assigned to either a psilocybin or placebo control group. They then participated in a five-day, silent group meditation retreat. On day four, each received either a dose of psilocybin, or a placebo (lactose). 

Before and after the retreat, members of both groups completed questionnaires about their experiences and perception and underwent an fMRI brain scan, during which they meditated. Four months later they filled out a survey about changes in their attitudes, moods, behavior, and social experiences.

After the retreat ended, mushroom-assisted meditators reported less self-consciousness and more illusions and hallucinations than the control group. They also reported better social functioning four months later compared to controls.  

Of course, neither meditation nor hallucinogen use is a one-size-fits-all proposition. The study authors caution that taking mind-altering drugs, for people who are either unprepared or with certain medical histories, may do more harm than good. 

A little meditation can go a long way

Researchers at Western Washington University conducted a study to see if mindfulness meditation could enhance coping flexibility—the ability to pay attention to, and modify strategies for dealing with, stress. 

They recruited 115 students with no prior meditation practice and assigned half to a meditation group, and the other half to a waitlist. Then everyone completed a survey about their mindfulness, stress, and coping flexibility. Meditation group members received two-and-a-half hours of instruction, consisting of half-hour-long guided meditations and body scans, and were given a CD of the practices. They were asked to meditate at home for six days and record how often they practiced, and their mood and stress levels.  

After six days, the meditation group reported greater “dispositional mindfulness” (the ability to be nonjudgmentally aware of thoughts in the present moment) and less stress than those in the non-meditation group, along with a significant boost in coping flexibility. Two weeks later, the meditators’ coping flexibility had increased further, but had dropped among the non-meditators.