Stop whatever you’re doing. Take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth, relaxing your shoulders and unclenching your jaw. Feels good, right? Well, there’s plenty more where that came from, because this issue of Student Self-Improvement is devoted to the beautiful practice of meditation.
No longer just for monks, hippies or liberals, this Eastern practice has established itself in the Western zeitgeist as an effective tool for clearing your mind. With finals season closing in, join me in stepping back and breathing out as we discuss how and why to start meditating.
Traditional Buddhist meditation has around 40 different forms, but modern audiences have particularly embraced mindfulness, which basically just means grounding yourself in the present moment. For some reason, this is extremely hard — we’re often anywhere but in the moment, instead focusing on fun thoughts like stress, exam worries or that time we called our teacher “Mom” in middle school. By practicing mindful meditation, we go from drowning in our thoughts to sitting on a riverbank and watching them float harmlessly by.
Scientists have linked this practice to improvements in focus, mood and memory, but its most popular and effective benefit is stress reduction. Meditation is not a cure-all, but consistent practice will help take the edge off your worries, making it easier for you to create value for shareholders going forward.
In theory, all you need to practice meditation is yourself, but it’s helpful to start with a guide. There’s an app for everything, so of course there are plenty of curated meditation services — some of which are great, and some of which are not. For the best possible experience, Headspace offers a massive array of structured meditation programs for $70 a year. This is easily the best app on the market if you don’t mind being robbed, and there’s a two week free trial available.
Personally, I’d go for Medito, which is 100% free and offers hundreds of high-quality guided sessions. Then again, you can just go to YouTube, type in the length of time you want to meditate and pick from a whole Internet’s worth of options. It’s really that easy.
Once you have your app set up, find five or 10 minutes and give it a go. In the short term, mindfulness meditation can clear your mind and make it a little easier to get through a hard week. It can become just another tool in your little “surviving the modern world” toolbox, something you can use to temporarily alleviate increased stress. You may need it one week and not touch it the next, and that’s perfectly fine.
As a long-term practice, however, meditation can completely change the way you think. If you meditate for around 30 minutes a day for a year, you will likely see huge changes in your level of stress, attention span and ability to focus. You will be able to detach from your thoughts in a way you can’t even imagine right now.
On the other hand, I say “likely” because, despite meditating for years, I’ve never achieved that level of consistency. Thirty or 60 minute sessions are difficult even as one-offs, so stringing them together day after day, no matter the circumstances, would require a serious level of commitment. If you want to meditate every day, it’s better to pick a small amount of time at a consistent point during the day.
Some scientists also think that “over-meditating” can have negative effects, which has been true for me at the extremes of my own practice. Being in the present moment is nice, but sometimes it’s better to drift away and ponder the situation. It’s all about balance, and being in touch with your specific needs and goals.
Now that my work here is done, I hope you’ll consider incorporating meditation into your self-care regimen. The best way to deal with college stress is dropping out, but mindfulness is arguably a close second — and it can have tons of other body and mind benefits. In any case, while I have you here, go ahead and get another deep breath in. As the Buddha said, it’ll either all work out or you’ll be a better student in the next life.
Dashiell Barnett is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Student Self-Improvement will appear online and in print every three weeks.
Leave a Reply