Whil app helps students cope with stress

Nina Schmidt, Editor-In-Chief

Whil, an app that is now available free of charge to all Tam District students, teachers, and parents, offers guided yoga and mindfulness sessions; the latter of which have  been proven to lower stress and improve academic performance.

According to Jessica Colvin, Wellness Director, Whil CEO Joe Burton initiated contact with her.

“Joe came to me and said ‘this is an amazing resource, I would love to be able to offer this to your students, staff, and parents for free.’ And I said ‘absolutely.’” Colvin said.

As former president of Headspace, another mindfulness app, Burton has a history in mindfulness technology. After moving on from Headspace, Burton founded Whil, an app with a similar concept that was instead marketed towards schools and companies. Its users include Square, Mount Sinai, UCLA and Harvard Business School.

“There are three different programs: youth, adults, and a combination of the two. The program for youth is called Grow and the one for adults Thrive. Both programs have Move which leads yoga for youth and adults.” Colvin said.

“Grow” offers hundreds of guided mindfulness sessions. The categories for students are Emotions, Physical Health and Sports, Performance, Relationships, Self-Image, Sleep, One-Minute Meditations, and Mindfulness for Resilience in Illness. Within these categories there are about 10-15 more specific options that have 5-10 guided sessions of meditation of ranging lengths.

“You can also tell it how much time you have. I always say five minutes because that’s all I can offer, and it will give you meditations that are five minutes or under.” Colvin said, “If you find a session you really like you can save it and go back to the same one.”

In addition to the length and category, the program can also be personalized by setting goals. Users can choose from Wellbeing, Performance, Relationships, Sleep, and Movement and the app will recommend meditations to assist in those specific areas.

“So many of our students are involved in sports and there’s seven meditations that can help prepare you for performance.” Colvin said, “School sometimes is a very high stress environment, and meditations for focus or stress can help you be mindful before you get into your homework or study for a test.”

According to the school’s Wellness Survey, students overwhelmingly believe that stress and pressure around academic performance is the number one social and emotional challenge faced by students here. Mindfulness could be a significant tool to change that.

A study led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.

Additionally, according to Georgetown University Medical Center, an eight week course of daily mindfulness classes can help lower stress hormones by around 15 percent.

Another issue that students reported in the Wellness Survey was difficulty sleeping. 60.8 percent of students experienced this, another stress related ailment that mindfulness has been proven to aid. According to Harvard Medical School, mindfulness helps fight insomnia and improve sleep.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to have gotten help from Whil with sleep.” Colvin said.

Students go to great lengths to improve their standardized test scores from tutoring to taking tests multiple times. These tactics are expensive and time consuming and recent research shows that mindfulness might be another way to improve test performance.

According to a February, 2015 article Forbes Magazine, a study showed that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the Graduate Record Examination. The change raised participants’ scores by 16 percent.

While mindfulness is certainly a resource for the short term, long-term meditators also fare better than those who don’t meditate. A UCLA study found that as they aged, long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators.

Not only is Whil a personal resource, it can also be used in the classroom.

“Teachers that choose to lead mindfulness in their classes can use this to do a one or two minute meditation to start class.” Colvin said.

The app’s teachers themselves are also an asset according to Colvin.

“The mindfulness teachers are also really diverse. It’s all different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds.” Colvin said, “There’s something for everyone.”

Colvin also appreciates the open endedness of the app.

“It’s not telling you what to do, it just helps you be aware and mindful.” Colvin said.