Seven thousand teenagers wrestling with the churning emotions of adolescence, exam stress and peer pressure are to take part in an unprecedented trial of the effect of mindfulness meditation on mental health.

Psychologists and neuroscientists from Oxford University and University College London announced on Wednesday they plan to recruit children aged 11 to 16 from 76 secondary schools as part of a seven-year study. They said it would be the largest trial of its kind ever conducted and it would test some of the increasingly ambitious claims about the power of mindfulness meditation to tackle illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

The practice emerged in the 1970s from ancient Buddhist meditation and essentially involves observing your thoughts as they pass through your mind and actively choosing whether to get caught up in them or not. It has boomed among adults in the UK and US.

About 2,200 people have trained as mindfulness teachers in the UK, enough to teach 200,000 people a year, and there are over 700,000 subscribers to a smart-phone app which helps people meditate, called Headspace.

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