Students, Alumni Embrace Mindfulness

Camila Chaudron '08

March 7, 2014

"I was 33 years old when I really learned how to breathe," said Walter "Wally" Roth '96, to a group of grade 8 students that had assembled to discuss the benefits of practicing mindfulness on Jan. 21, 2014. Junior School faculty Marion Lyman '70 Mersereau, Chase Mitsuda '98 and Dan Tuttle '73 had asked Roth to present his "Mindfulness Daily" app as a part of the students' exploration of meditation and the brain.

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Mindfulness practice, which Lyman-Mersereau describes as "non-judgemental awareness of the present moment," has been proven to increase brain stimulation in the pre-frontal cortex, which supports decision-making, and in the insula, which supports empathy. Lyman-Mersereau's class, along with several other grade 8 classes, practice mindfulness for a few minutes approximately twice a week.

Roth began by asking the lively audience to engage in a short demonstration of mindfulness: first, they focused on their breathing, regulating the inhalations and exhalations to a continuous rhythm. Then, the students focused on releasing stress in their shoulders, spine and extremities. The students quieted down in the process; when they finally returned their focus to Roth, he had captured their full attention.

Roth discussed the negative effects of stress on the body, "which the American Medical Associated has determined is the basic cause of more than 60 percent of all human illness." The body of research on the beneficial effects of mindfulness is growing rapidly, and there are many indications that it may even improve students' academic performance when used strategically, such as immediately before a test or as a mental break during study sessions.

Mindfulness Daily is a mobile phone application Roth developed through his startup company, inward, inc., of which Roth is co-founder and CEO. Roth created the free application following several years of self-exploration, where he studied meditation from scientists and monks, and found that the biggest challenge he faced to remaining mindful was simply remembering to practice it on a regular basis that integrated the practice into daily life.

"Punahou teaches you how to follow your dreams when you're really passionate about something, so I combined my knowledge of industrial engineering and tech startups with my personal experiences and created this app," said Roth during a subsequent interview. "I was the student co-chair of the 1995 Carnival, and it was the single most stressful thing I've ever done. I wish I would have known then how to manage my stress using mindfulness techniques to increase my productivity and enjoyment of that transformative learning experience."

A class survey from the 2012 – 2013 academic year shows that 81 percent of students found mindfulness practice to be "extremely helpful" and began using the practice outside of class; 99 percent of students found the practice to be useful. Written responses to the survey were also submitted: "It definitely helped me have less stress, be more attentive, calm myself down, think clearer and appreciate what I have. One of the most common times I found myself using it was before my track races, when I would be extremely worried and nervous about how I would perform. To calm myself down, I would breathe and follow my breath throughout my body. This would help me calm down and focus my mind on what I need to do and want to accomplish. It would also help block out any other distractions, such as people yelling " said Tim '17.

Comments

  • 3/11/2014 2:16:16 PM

    Thanks for the great article! If anyone has questions or wants us to present to their class or organization, please email me at contact@inward.me :-) Or check out the app yourself at: http://www.mindfulnessdailyapp.com/ - Walter Roth


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