Innovation Initiatives Need an Injection of Meditation

The ‘human element’ should not be forgotten as cities work to better their communities.
August 7, 2018
Schools across the country are using meditation to improve student outcomes and increase happiness levels. Shutterstock
By Lisa Wong  |  Senior Fellow, Governing Institute
Lisa Wong is a senior fellow with the Governing Institute and former mayor of Fitchburg, Mass.
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The story of the 12 boys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand for more than two weeks captivated the world this summer. The rescue efforts; international collaboration; and combination of bravery, training and technology used to pull off such a miracle remains the subject of much discussion and celebration at a time when good news is at a premium. Through all these details, it could be easy to overlook a key factor in the boys’ survival: meditation.

Some forms of meditation such as yoga are widely practiced throughout society. However, meditation and the larger practice of mindfulness have long been a part of treating trauma and helping people, especially youth, deal with a variety of issues. With an increased awareness about the prevalence of toxic stress and anxiety across demographics, geography and income, meditation is an increasingly popular and necessary tool.

Global companies such as Google are using mindfulness and meditation to help employees. They have created physical and mental space integrated in the workday with classes and an initiative called gPause to facilitate mindfulness. Other large companies like Twitter, Starbucks and Aetna are also using mediation to increase the quality of life and productivity of employees.

Public entities are also embracing mindfulness and meditation as an innovative way to achieve results. A school in Baltimore replaced detention with mediation and found it to be a much better way to ease student stress and reduce suspensions.

Schools across the country are using meditation to help achieve education goals as well. The annual California Healthy Kids Survey showed adding meditation throughout the school day increased test scores, raised attendance rates and improved grade point averages. It also increased happiness levels and reduced stress hormones. Schools have already begun to adopt professional development programs to train teachers in mindfulness and also aim mindfulness at teachers themselves to help reduce stress.

The Foundation for a Mindful Society is working on a project to create “Mindful Cities” to help civic leaders incorporate mindfulness-based programs and allow communities to flourish. Public officials like Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan have been championing mindfulness for the past decade. Representative Ryan has raised money for mindfulness research and programs, seeing the benefits for everyone from veterans to kids.

Mindfulness is having an impact in professional sports too. Basketball legends like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have credited mindfulness with their success on the court.

Innovation, economic development, government efficiency and growth are common goals for cities and communities. But oftentimes, these efforts are divorced from health and wellness factors, especially physiological well-being.

Urban planning researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Ceasar McDowell and Ayushi Roy, are leading a summer-long experiment on trauma-informed community engagement, recognizing that this vital public dialogue has been crippled by trauma on both sides of the conversation -- the public whose trust has been violated by broken promises and government agencies on the receiving end of blowback. [McDowell and Roy were recent guests on the Governing podcast, Go Public. Listen to the episode here.]

Perhaps city innovation will thrive even more when we remember the human element behind every initiative and be more mindful about how people cope with the pressure placed on them to perform.