Meditation and mindfulness have gained a great deal of popularity over the past few years, and for good reason. My meditation practice has transformed several aspects of my own life. We’ll first go over why every student should meditate, and then go into how you can implement meditation and mindfulness in your own busy schedule.
1) Meditation & Mindfulness Overview
It’s no secret that meditation has become increasingly mainstream, and credited as a key part of achieving success. The benefits aren’t limited to those who are uber spiritual yogi monks. From billionaires like Bill Gates to Sir Richard Branson, many of the world’s most successful individuals cite daily meditation or mindfulness practices as a staple to their routines. So, for starters, let’s talk about what meditation actually is.
The English word meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, meaning “to think, contemplate, devise, or ponder.” Over the years, the term has taken different meanings and there are multiple types of meditation. For our discussion today, we will refer to meditation the way it is used in mainstream culture today, which is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a type of meditation focusing on being in the present, such as focusing on one’s breath, or focusing completely on an experience such as eating some bacon and being fully present to the delicious scent, warmth, crunchy texture, and taste.
One generally sits or lays down in a comfortable position and spends several minutes focusing on one object or experience – this can be the breath, or body sensations, or the food you’re eating. As the mind wanders to other thoughts, which will happen, we non-judgementally catch ourselves and redirect our focus. Each of these moments of refocusing is like performing a rep for your mind muscle. In the gym, we do sets and reps of bench press to make our pecs, anterior delts, and triceps stronger. In mindfulness practice, we do reps of refocusing to train our mind muscle.
2) Benefits of Meditation
In a broad sense, meditation is about becoming less of a passenger to your own mind. I have found that meditation helps to decrease my emotional reactivity, allowing me to expand the space between an event happening and responding to it. Over the years, it has allowed me to observe my own physical sensations and emotions from an almost third-person perspective, which ultimately gives me much more control of my own actions. My pain tolerance has increased, as has my patience and ability to deal with difficult emotions.
The effects are far from immediate. I have noticed subtle but powerful changes over weeks, months, and even years. The key is regular practice. Once you start meditating on a regular basis, one of the first things you’ll start to notice is a clearer mind. The more and more we flex our “meditation muscle,” the more it spills over in to the rest of the day when we’re not meditating. Our thoughts are more organized, things feel less hectic, and it’s easier to find mental clarity.
It’s no surprise, then, that these benefits spill over into the world of studying, too. Incorporating a daily mindfulness practice allows us to focus more effectively while studying. This is huge. Let’s be real – distractions are some of the biggest offenders to your productivity. The urges to check your Instagram, or refresh your inbox, or check for new texts, will all become much easier to ignore. And that new mental clarity means we do a better job of retaining what we’re studying, too. Remember, effective studying isn’t just about the time spent, but also the intensity of the studying. And mindfulness practice helps on both fronts.
3) How to Apply It
Ok, so now you’re convinced that a regular meditation practice may be the silver bullet that your study routine was missing. But… you’re way too busy to meditate everyday, right? False. Regardless of how busy you think you are, I guarantee that you can fit mindfulness practice into your daily routine.
First, it’s essential to understand that you can practice mindfulness in short periods. I have frequently done 5 minute or even 2 minute sessions when I am crunched for time. You can practice while you’re eating a meal, or taking a shower, or driving your car. While I find that sitting with my eyes closed and focusing on my breath is most worthwhile for me, I still find value in other forms of mindfulness practice. Figure out what works best for you, and ask yourself how you can realistically fit it into your daily routine. I personally tack on 10 minutes of meditation after my stretching routine each and every morning. Incorporating meditation practice into your morning routine is a great way to make it a habit that sticks. For more on getting yourself to stick to good habits or break bad habits, check out my post on how to change your habits scientifically.
Even though you might like to sit in a quiet room and focus on your breath when you meditate, remember that you can practice mindfulness throughout your day. Got a few minutes during your commute to school? Focus on a few slow deep breaths. Sitting in your seat waiting for class to start? Take a few moments to pay attention to how your feet feel on the ground, to the sensation of your seat, and to feeling of your hands resting on your paper.
Next, don’t judge yourself for meditating “incorrectly”. Don’t beat yourself up for being “bad” at meditating. That very much misses the point. Again, your mind will wander – a lot. Remember, each time your mind wanders and you redirect your focus on your breath, that is one repetition that strengthens your focus muscle. Each session will feel different too. Let the experience unfold and don’t judge it. Some may be easy, some may be difficult, it doesn’t matter. While it may come more naturally over time, it won’t necessarily be easier each and every time. That’s ok, don’t fret about regressing or getting worse. This is a moment to just be present without labeling anything as good or bad.
I have two questions for you: first, have you tried meditating and what has your experience been like? And second, what are your favorite ways to implement it in your own life? Do you have a favorite app that you use?