Luckily, the practice of treating mental and physical health as if they had nothing to do with each other is fading out of Western medicine.
The Huffington Post reports that in a TEDMED conference the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy framed the issue in a clear-cut manner: Happiness is a key to preventing disease and living a long healthy life.
According to Murthy, happiness is not an elusive emotion, nor a feature dependent on genetic inheritance or one’s life’s events.
Rather, it is a perspective that can be cultivated with gratitude exercises, meditation, physical activity, and social connectedness.
As an example of how happiness-inducing practices have a real-life measurable effect, Murphy spoke of Visitacion Valley middle school in San Fransisco.
In 2007 twice-daily Transcendental Meditation practice was instituted in Visitacion Valley. Since then, low test scores and high suspension rates have become history and the middle school can boast of improving grades and test scores, reduced suspension rates, and one of the highest student self-reported happiness scores in the city.
This week The Guardian also reported on Visitacion Valley in an article titled “One of San Francisco’s toughest schools transformed by the power of meditation.”
Barry O’Driscoll, the school’s head of physical education (PE), describes the extent to which the students’ lives were burdened by the atmosphere of violence around them: “In 2006 there were 38 killings in our neighborhood”
Naturally, this made the children agitated and stressed out. Considering the adversities the students had to face, O’Driscoll was skeptical that the daily Transcendental Meditation practice called Quiet Time, could be of benefit.
The Guardian reports: “When I first heard about it I thought it probably wasn’t going to work,” says O’Driscoll. “We get thrown a new thing every couple of years so I didn’t put too much faith in it.”
Yet, just a month after the program was instituted, teachers spotted positive changes.
“Students seemed happy,” says O’Driscoll. “They worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of fights fell dramatically.
“It’s provided a lot of stability to our school, helping staff and kids get through the stress they have in their lives.”
With Transcendental Meditation, Visitacion Valley has become an island of peace and calm in the middle of a still-violent neighborhood, protecting children from the worst outcomes of stress.
“We might get verbal disagreements, but the kids are able to talk through it and move on instead of punching each other,” says O’Driscoll, adding that the last fistfight at the school was three years ago. “It’s very peaceful here now.”
Photos: U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Facebook