Freshmen at Middlesex participate in Mindfulness courses for nine weeks in the fall. Mindfulness is about learning to direct our attention to our present moment experience (senses, thoughts, emotions) with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. Rather than worrying about what has happened or might happen, it trains us to respond skillfully to whatever is happening right now.
The Middlesex program is based on an evidence-based mindfulness curriculum named “.b”, which was developed by a UK-based organization called the Mindfulness In Schools Project. The course meets once a week for 40 minutes over the course of nine weeks. Using different mindfulness exercises, we explore such areas as attention, thoughts, emotions, and stress. One of the first exercises in the course is the “Two Minute Challenge." In this exercise, students see if they can simply pay attention to their breath for two minutes. It sounds simple and easy, but what many quickly realize is that their attention jumps to thoughts, sounds, images, etc. Students experience firsthand how much their attention wanders. Over the nine weeks, students learn exercises to train their attention and develop a more still, clear, and concentrated mind.
Feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive; 98% of those surveyed would recommend the course to others. Students reported that the course helped them focus on schoolwork, reduce stress, focus in sports, and improve relationships with themselves and others.
Mindfulness was first introduced into medicine in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (parent of two Middlesex alumni), and now has become a mainstream influence in medicine, psychology, corporations, and education. Over thirty years of research supports the use of mindfulness. The benefits include improvements in sleep, emotional regulation, and self-esteem, lowered anxiety, and reduced depression and ADHD. Some recent brain imaging research, including work by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, shows that mindfulness practice positively alters the structures of the brain associated with learning, memory, empathy, and stress. Many K-12 schools and universities such as the University of Pennsylvania now have mindfulness centers, and even corporations like Google and General Mills offer mindfulness programs to their employees. The New York Times recently published a piece on the benefits of Mindfulness.
Doug Worthen MX'96 teaches the Mindfulness program. Doug began his mindfulness practice in 1999 as a way to reduce stress and enhance his athletic performance as a member of the University of Virginia national championship lacrosse team. Since he began practicing, he has seen the benefits in athletics, relationships, business, and overall happiness. In 2007, Doug was diagnosed with a rare lymphoma; treatment included a bone marrow transplant and over five months in isolation. Doug credits mindfulness as key in his survival and healing. He came out of that experience committed to sharing mindfulness with youth. Doug trained as a mindfulness educator at the UMass Center for Mindfulness and the Mindful Education Institute, led by Kabat-Zinn and other prominent teachers in the field.
Doug can be reached at email@example.com