This guest article was written by Shazia Sarwar-Azim – previously an Executive Headteacher, MD of Emotional Therapist Coach and SEND Educational Consultant.
Why Design an Immersive Meditation Sanctuary (IMS)?
Since the global pandemic, Immersive Reality became very aware of the impact that COVID-19 had on society, especially as they work with vulnerable children and their families. They noted how COVID-19 had sparked and amplified more serious mental health problems in Children, Young People and Adults (CYPA).
The National Health Service (NHS) reported that CYPA suffered from:
- Psychological distress
- Post-traumatic stress
- Suicidal thoughts
- Social isolation and disconnection
As a result, mental health services continued to be severely disrupted and saturated, and in some parts of the United Kingdom it could take up to three years to be seen by the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service.
I realised through reading around the National Social Prescribing Agenda (NHS, 2022) that there was a huge need to provide holistic services to vulnerable people.
Immersive Reality and myself formed a working party – I am an Emotional Therapist Coach, and a specialist in my field. Within my role, I worked with children and adults with anxiety, depression, trauma, and a host of other diagnosed mental health illnesses.
I identified that I could use Immersive Reality spaces to create bespoke Immersive Meditation Sanctuaries (IMS) that could help CYPA who:
- Had one or more long-term mental health conditions
- Needed support with their mental health
- Were lonely or isolated
- Suffered from social anxiety
How Immersive Spaces Benefit Mental Health
An IMS would provide a room that created escapism by using sounds, images and smell to create a captivating environment. The sanctuary environment would help your body to relax, recharge and refocus.
CYPA would experience travelling around the world, connecting with nature, and focusing the mind on the details within the scene – guiding their thoughts to a stillness.
This would also support the focus on breathing patterns, and therefore engage the mind, body and soul for its meditation journey. By focusing on a mantra or your breath in meditation, you’re literally training your mind to be more focused.
The Immersive Meditation Sanctuary (IMS) was designed to be found in gyms, libraries, schools, and other workplaces. It would be a space that we would want to entice Children, Young People and Adults to try a new experience when they were feeling heightened levels of stress.
It would also be used as a reregulation tool, a preventative, and an early help measure. We wanted people to use the IMS as a part of a healthy habits routine to support people engaging in a mentally healthy state of mind.
As a Holistic Therapist, I have been leading projects in schools by creating versatile Immersive Meditation spaces. Children took part in designing rooms, writing scripts, and recording meditation scenes.
The Meditation Project
At Walverden Primary School in Lancashire, I led a project for 5 days with 10 pupils from Years 5 and 6. Some of the pupils were the school’s Learning Champions that supported the whole school’s mental health and well-being agenda.
Miss Ahmed (Headteacher) said “Meditation is an ancient practice that has been used throughout many cultures, religions and internationally across many countries. We incorporate many mindful techniques in everyday practice such as breathing techniques, resulting in children reporting that they feel less stress and it helps them to improve their self-confidence and approach day to day issues calmly and with confidence. We are looking forward to learning how to write meditation scripts and bring them to life and measuring the impact on our school community”.
Children discussed why they thought it was necessary to have an Immersive Meditation Sanctuary in a school or work setting. They said it could provide a holistic therapy service that would focus on a person’s emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. The Mental Health Champions said “children needed the right services, in the right place, in the right time and this was a school focus.”
Children took part in several different forms of meditation and discussed how modern people used meditation as a tool to sharpen focus, reduce stress, and improve physical health (such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and insomnia).
After the children had thoroughly understood the common features of writing a meditation script, they concluded that their scripts would take an element of each type of meditation:
- Guided: provide a guide, so that CYPA were not alone
- Mindful: create an opportunity for them to experience their thoughts and emotions honestly and safely
- Focused: strengthen their ability to concentrate
- Heart centred: focusing on releasing emotions and building self esteem
Children wrote meditation scripts incorporating the key features. They took part in voice and body language training and set design, as well as rehearsing and recording their scripts.
Each child chose a focus for their meditation. Aakifah focused on families going through a hard time who could not sleep due to stress at home. Haidar affirmed his “meditation focused on breathing patterns and will help the brain to stop living in a state of stress and confusion. People can begin to relate to their thoughts and feelings and as a result, feel warm, calm, and relaxed.”
Noorulayn said her “mindful escapism scene would allow the person to float up onto a giant blossom leaf all the way to a pink cherry blossom park.” Simina wanted people “to visit a beach filled with horses galloping, against the sun setting”.
Children learnt how to use their body posture and voice during the recording process. Mohammed Ali said “I used a low, calming and an exaggerated voice, so that the unconscious and the conscious mind could hear the main messages in my meditation”.
Addullah raised a discussion point around the importance of children recording their voices; as some children would not find adult voices calming. Amara said “a child’s voice is more relatable, especially if it came from the same country, children could connect with each other.”
Saif said “it could be used as a family bonding session and families can walk away with tools to help them to connect with each other.”
Miss Iveson said “I think the project had a really positive impact on the children involved. It gave them a much clearer idea of what meditation is and the different ways it can be used. They have been discussing it a lot with their peers, and the children in my class have read their script to the rest of the class at the end of each day, which the class have really enjoyed and benefited from too.”
Lessons Learnt From The Project
After researching and participating in an array of meditation activities, the children concluded:
- There was no right or wrong way of carrying out the meditation, so no one could feel like a failure.
- A meditative state of mind could be achieved quickly, if you kept on refocusing on the words and environment.
- Your internal will and thoughts guided you to feel the zen created within.
- You could skill yourself and create a meditative state of mind anywhere (listening to music, walking in nature, trying to sleep, living in the moment and being mindful).
- You didn’t need any tools or equipment.
- Meditation influences people in different ways.
- The experience is a personal one.
Children discussed how meditation helped them to gain a stillness when they overthink feelings, thoughts and events. Hudayah said, “I want to design a meditation for children that will make them feel calm, relaxed, less stressed and less hyper”. They learnt about how their unconscious and conscious minds worked and what impact it had on the body.
The children researched and shared proven scientific studies that confirmed how the benefit of meditation improved:
- Your outlook on life
- How you interact with the world
- Your concentration
- The reduction of anxiety, stress, and depression
- The connection with the unconscious and conscious states
- Self-control and self esteem
The working party mapped how the nervous system created a host of neurological changes to alleviate the unhelpful symptoms (anxiety/depression), therefore allowing the CYPA to feel a sense of peace, control, and naturally breaking away from the hectic state their mind was trapped in.
In conclusion, the Immersive Meditation Sanctuary provided an in-house holistic therapy service for those people within the community who suffered from mental health conditions, or those who wanted to take up meditation as a hobby.
The beauty of this practice is that it can be taken up by everyone and anyone. Having access to 10 – 15 minutes of meditation led to escapism, relieving stress (increasing dopamine and serotonin) and improving mood.
Some adults created a daily meditation routine, enabling them to transform their physical, social and mental well-being. Within a few minutes of choosing an Immersive Meditation, the body felt a shift from living in a constant state of stress into a much more relaxed state, as anxiety and fatigue were reduced because the heart rate and blood pressure decreased.
As a Headteacher, I noticed that the children and staff returned to their classrooms after their meditation session with enhanced cognitive functions, a self-esteem boost, more self-awareness and with a relaxed state of mind. Children used the IMS several times a day to support their reregulation and there was a noticeable difference in children’s mood and resilience.
The staff questionnaires concluded that staff were:
- Happier after sessions (were less stressed and less fearful, and made better decisions)
- Mentally healthier (feeling refreshed)
- Creative (more solution focused and joyful. Oxytocin, the love chemical, is released during meditation)
- Productive and focused (they felt energised, as if someone had pressed reset)
- Less poorly (it was fun heading into a session with colleagues, bonding over a new healthy experience. When we had headaches, or felt overwhelmed we could go and use the IMS at any point, as a part of our mental health and well-being school agenda)
Companies in East Asia have invested in Corporate Meditation Programs for years. (Meditation House, 2022) As a result of their investment, they have seen:
- A lower turnover rate
- Better office relationships
- Less of a need for conflict resolution
- Fewer incidents reported to HR
- A more cooperative atmosphere
All this leads to greater workplace satisfaction and long-lasting employees.
Halimah concluded “the body is going to feel refreshed and have a new inner strength if we continue to use meditation in our schools and workplaces on a daily basis.”
by Shazia Sarwar Azim FCCT, NLP, NPQH, AST, B’Ed
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Meditation House (2022). How Our Corporate Meditation Programs Produce Results. Accessed from https://meditationhouse.com/corporate-meditation-programs-produce-results/
NHS (2022). Coronavirus (COVID-19) and mental wellbeing. Accessed from https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/coronavirus/
NHS (2022). Social Prescribing. Accessed from https://www.england.nhs.uk/personalisedcare/social-prescribing/