Australian society is seeing an increasingly stressed, over-scheduled and over-tested generation of young people, according to new not for profit organisation, Smiling Mind.
Yet there is hope, with documented research showing that Mindfulness Meditation helps young people develop a sense of calm and focus.
With cases of mental illness, depression and stress-related illness on the rise, Smiling Mind has created a world first initiative – a free-of-charge Mindfulness Meditation website and App developed specifically for young people – which launches this month.
Consisting of four age-specific programs; 7-11 years, 12-15 years, 16-22 years; and adults. Each program takes the listener through a guided session using relaxation and breathing techniques.
Documented benefits of Mindfulness Meditation include better management of stress, increased levels of attention and focus, and improved awareness of emotional states. By lowering stress and increasing resilience in young people Mindfulness Meditation helps lower the incidence of anxiety, depression and other physical and mental illnesses in later life.
Smiling Mind is modern meditation for young people - it aims to dispel the myths around meditation by creating an accessible online program that is easy for young people to use and feel comfortable with.
Co-founders Jane Martino and James Tutton created the innovative program in conjunction with local and overseas psychologists specialising in youth orientated pre-emptive mental health programs. Smiling Mind's Project Partner, the Inspire Foundation also played an integral role by supporting program development and testing. Inspire is the not-for-profit organisation behind ReachOut.com, Australia's leading online mental health service for young people.
'Young people face increasing everyday life pressures – from their mobile phones, social media, hectic after-school schedules and exam pressures. What they need are tools to help them cope," says Jane Martino.
'Mindfulness Meditation is a clinically proven tool that can help positively impact young people's lives and change Australia's mental health statistics for the better. Mediation is now entering the mainstream and Smiling Mind is a great example of how this is happening," says James Tutton.
Dr Craig Hassed, senior lecturer at the Monash University Department of General Practice agrees. He has been a leading advocate of mindfulness research and techniques since 1991.
'Mindfulness Meditation can be applied to most situations but it can be particularly useful for school students in helping them deal with anxiety relating to study and exams. It's a practice that can help students focus and deal with emotional issues, thus improving their mental state," says Dr Hassed.
Smiling Mind's long-term vision of being on the Australian Curriculum by 2020 is already underway, with a pilot program currently in place within 20 schools nationwide.
'We're committed to bringing new services that improve young people's wellbeing - creating happier, healthier and more compassionate Australians," says Martino.
All Smiling Mind Meditation programs are free of charge and accessible via the website or the App.
Review: After using the All Smiling Mind Meditation program once I had already began to feel calmer and more relaxed especially because using the program is so easy and you are talked through the entire exercise.
After using the program, twice a day, for three days on my iPhone I really did feel as if I was clearer, more energised and content. I now look forward to using the program, first thing in the morning and at night before bed. As I have sleeping difficulties relating directly to an overscheduled demanding lifestyle, the choice to use the app before bed was extremely beneficial for me and I fell asleep easier and quicker without worry.
I honestly believe that, even though I have only used the program for a short amount of time, I am becoming more aware of myself and directly releasing tension within my entire body from my head through to my toes. Every day I have changed my general feeling to feel more positive and connected.
During day three I used the app before an appointment which I was quiet nervous about and I believe I entered the appointment calmer and with more openness to reach the full effect of the meeting. I know this practice would be highly beneficial for managers who may become stressed or panicky prior to important meetings and appointments. The best thing? The program only requires ten or less minutes of your time and will regenerate you more than a coffee, chocolate or sugar!
I highly recommend the All Smiling Mind Meditation program for adults and children of all ages especially because it only takes a couple of minutes but will calm you for the entire day...
For more information or to trial the free program visit www.smilingmind.com.au or visit the App store.
Jane Martino is renowned for developing thriving businesses, having grown one of Melbourne's best known communications agencies, Undertow Media. While managing her business and raising three children, she managed to become a published author with 72,000 copies of her six -Thank You' books printed and sold in 2004. Jane was a finalist in the Telstra Young Business Women's Awards in 2007.
Mother to three young boys – Tom, Henry and Sonny – she is deeply passionate about creating an environment for children that is supportive, protective and inspiring.
Question: Can you describe Smiling Mind, please?
Jane Martino: Smiling Mind is a not-for-profit organisation that I co-founded with James Tutton who is someone I've known for many years, commercially, through work channels.
Question: What inspired the creation of Smiling Mind?
Jane Martino: In September of 2011 James and I shared a cup of tea and talked about things that we would love to do regarding social entrepreneurialism and how we might express that. James Tutton was keen to look at the amazing work and research for online mediation in Universities, overseas. Similarity I was working on an app, for young people, around wellbeing and one of those components of the app, that I had been thinking about, was mediation. We were both passionate about young people having more time to reflect and we decided to join forces and create something even bigger, better and different than anything else before.
Question: Who is Mindfulness Meditation for and how is the program developed for different age groups?
Jane Martino: We created the Mindfulness Meditation program for young people with help from various psychologists. The program is for anyone, as there is an adult program however our target is young people because as parents we both saw there was lots of anxious young people out there and we see this as a tool to deliver mindfulness programs that help them tune into being more present, in the moment and comfortable to sit and reflect. The Mindfulness Meditation program delivers this in a modern, approachable way that is easy to access and relevant as it is delivered via technology on a free app and on the web.
There are four programs which are applicable to certain age groups although the core doesn't differ; all programs are centred around mindfulness and philosophies of using the breath, body scan and a number of different techniques that help you be more in the moment. The 7 – 11 age group which is the youngest group uses visualisation throughout the program and by time you move up to the 12 – 15 and 16 – 22 groups and then get to adult it is simple and instructional.
Question: How does Mindfulness Meditation develop a sense of calm and focus?
Jane Martino: The practice of mindfulness has been used for centuries but more recently research has shown that the practice of mindfulness is a form of attention training and the brain has the ability to retrain itself to focus and pay attention which is why there are so many private schools already using this program. However there are lots of schools who don't have access to the funds needed to employee someone to present the practice of mindfulness which is why we've taken the scientific aspect and benefits of mindfulness to provide positive outcomes. Outcomes such as increased focus and the ability to pay attention which allows the brain and self to become more aware of the emotional state which enables you to cope better with the way you react to stress and certain stressful situations. A positive by-product is that Mindfulness Meditation triggers the relaxation response and that is what most people understand about mediation; people are beginning to understand that it not only feels good in their body but it assists their brain to create new neural pathways which assist you in all aspects of your life.
Question: Why do you believe Australian society is seeing an increasingly stressed, over-scheduled and over-tested generation of young people?
Jane Martino: We haven't personally researched that although we are in the process, with Monash University, of beginning the motions of starting research on our program and it's outcomes.
As a mother I spend a lot of time down at the primary school canteen and various other areas and there are so many anxious young people even in prep, for all different reasons; we need to have tools that are pre-emptive that can be used easily before things escalate.
We have leaned on our partner which is the Inspire Foundation who run ReachOut.com and they have conducted a lot of research studies surrounding mental health and wellness; there are increasing levels of youth mental health issues and illnesses and that is due to various reasons. One of those reasons is absolutely the overuse of technology and the pressures on young people that now adults didn't have when they were growing up including the overscheduling. However overscheduling includes all ages; parents often feel as if they should always be doing more and giving more to their families instead of giving children time to just play!
There are so many different elements but we can't ignore the great things about technology and that's where our young people want to be – we are supplying them with tools that will help alleviate some of the cons of using technology.
Question: How did you go about creating the program Mindfulness Meditation?
Jane Martino: We worked with psychologists who use mindfulness in their practices. Craig Hassed of Monash University has been one of our advisers and he has lectured the medical facility at Monash for many years and has integrated mindfulness into his teaching because he can see how it helps his students in the lead up to exams and then coping with the large amounts of stress when entering the medical profession.
The program is an app, a podcast and it can be used on a laptop using the online site.
Question: How do you fit everything into your busy schedule without becoming stressed and overworked?
Jane Martino: I use the program every day because they're only five to ten minutes in length. When I first learnt to meditate the style was 20 minutes twice a day and I was a mum with two children and I was running a business so it was not realistic for me. Even a five to ten minute practice, once per day results in improvements of mindfulness and the way you start paying attention to being more mindful and being more present in your day to day.
I find five to ten minutes completely doable – I may be running early for a meeting so I press play and listen to one of the audio files of guided mediation. You can do it at the end of your gym workout, before bed or you can do it with your kids as there are lots of options to integrate it into your life. There are absolutely no excuses not to mediate because it is free.
Question: What is your aim for Mindfulness Meditation and Smiling Mind?
Jane Martino: Our goal is to continue growing the schools program as we are piloting with 15 different schools and organisations over the term and we want to grow that, next year, quiet substantially while continuing to promote for any individual to use and engage in the app for their general wellbeing.
Long term our goal is to have Mindfulness Meditation on the Australian curriculum because we believe that is the best way to demonstrate to young people how valuable it is and demonstrate to the education system of how mindfulness centres students and young people.
We work with sporting organisations as being present and being in the moment is so important when playing sport because when you're not in the moment you may miss a catch. Our ultimate vision is to expose as many young people to what they call in America -reflection time'.
A middle-school in San Francisco introduced what they called a -ten minute reflection time' at either end of the day; the school had lots of issues and after the introduction they had some great results including lowering truancy rates. For more information see: www.edutopia.org/stw-student-stress-meditation-overview-video
Interview by Brooke Hunter