MITRA is a programme to promote mental well-being in school children. It is widely used in state schools in India. Mitra stands for Mind in Training for Right Awareness, and is also the Hindi word for “friend.”
Right Awareness, which is the essence of Mitra, is the awareness of the natural breath. The participants learn to observe the incoming breath and outgoing breath by focusing their attention at the entrance of their nostrils. They simply observe their natural breath without trying to change or correct the flow of the breath. In this way, they experience the beginning steps of self-awareness. This technique of breath observation is known as Anapana, where “Ana” means incoming and “Apana” means outgoing breath.
Mitra provides an education which leads to freedom from various mental barriers like anxiety, anger, hatred, lack of concentration, doubts, laziness, greed, restlessness etc. The format is an initial training of 60 minutes (plus 15 minutes for introduction and closing), then 10 minutes daily at the start and end of school.
With regular practice, the school children can achieve enhanced concentration, memory, self-confidence, productivity and effectiveness, and they are also able to experience goodwill for others.
Details of the programme in the UK
It is provided under the guidance of the UK Vipassana Trust www.uk.dhamma.org which runs 10-day Vipassana meditation courses for adults, and 2 day Anapana courses for children, at Dhamma Dipa, Hereford. It is for use with children in Year 7 upwards. Mitra Sessions can be requested by any schoolteacher or youth worker who has successfully completed at least one 10-day course of Vipassana Meditation, and meets the requirements to serve. This means that they will not have practised any other meditation technique since their most recent Vipassana course, that they are trying to maintain their daily meditation practice, and that they are seriously trying to observe the five precepts in their daily lives. The first one or two sessions will be conducted by a Children’s Course Teacher (CCT) and then – by mutual agreement - the applicant can continue to conduct the sessions themselves.
For further information or to request a Mitra Session contact Arvin Barkhordarian: 01989 730234 (choose option 1, or extension 23) or at at: [email protected].
Courses for school children local to the meditation centre have been taking place since 2005, and began as a result of a local meditator being a teacher at a local primary school. Thirteen children aged 8 to 11 years old attended the first course.
The school was already committed to teaching Values Education and the head teacher saw that the technique offered a more practical means for the children to develop these values within themselves. Following the course, the children were given the opportunity to continue their practice at school for 10 minutes every lunchtime. Many noticed tangible benefits in their everyday lives, from improved relations with their families to better concentration in class. Some parents also commented on the positive effects on their children. Soon after, another local meditator, who taught at another school, arranged for her school to participate too. This was a much larger course, with forty-eight students.
In February 2007, the first course on school premises during the school day was held. The head teacher, who had been head at the first school to participate, had moved to a larger primary school to implement Values Education and was keen to see Anapana offered there as well. Another course was held at the same school in 2009.
Since then, other schools have brought their children to the meditation centre. Teachers and teaching assistants have accompanied the children in a pastoral role and worked alongside volunteers from the meditation centre.
The technique is an instrument for change in behaviour, outlook and well-being, and can complement and enhance initiatives like Values Education to help improve the general ethos and atmosphere of a school, project or centre.
The Children’s Course Committee, which oversees the running of Anapana courses, is keen to support schools and other organisations working with children and teenagers (aged 8 to 18 years old) in running these courses, either at Dhamma Dīpa, at Dhamma Sukhakāri, or at their own premises in their local area.
The film A Time To Breathe offers an insight into the benefits of meditation for school children from the perspective of parents, teachers and the children themselves (see the link).