9 July, 2016
For thousands of years, meditation has been practiced in civilizations as a means of cultivating a state of well-being and mindful living.
Meditation promotes a lifestyle of peace, and a means to achieve relaxation. Its powerful impact on the brain is proven to have positive impacts on physical and mental health. For today’s student, meditation is a perfect release for many of the high stake pressures that students face in academic life.
Meditation is known to have a wide array of benefits for both the body and mind as described by the Meditation Initiative here:
- Enhanced stress-management skills
- Increased self-awareness and self-image
- Improved focus and attention span
- Reduced negative emotions
- Improved creativity and energy
- Improved immune system
Though meditation is a purely mental activity, there is widespread scientific evidence that the practice has significant physical implications.
A recent study published in the Psychiatry Research journal identified that people who meditate for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had significant changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.
Brain scans taken before and after meditation revealed that there was an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, which is an area vital for learning and memory, according to the study results. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. The control group in the study that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.
One study linked meditation with lower blood pressure for patients with coronary heart disease and another study found that meditation enhanced attention span.
Several studies have been done in the last decade on meditation and students. A study, published in 2011 in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, found that a meditation practice reduced stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression amongst undergraduate students.
An additional study looking at the effect of meditation on public school students for racial and ethnic minorities found similar results. The study, published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology found that students that practiced meditation as part of quiet time in the school day exhibited significant reductions in psychological distress factors compared to students who did not.
Types of Meditation
The practice of meditation is incredibly diverse, so it is significant to find something that works for you. Be open to trying new practices until you find the right fit.
Mantra meditation is practiced by silently repeating a word, thought or phrase to calm the mind. Mantra meditation is thought to be the most famous type of meditation worldwide.
This type of practice is present in Buddhist and Hindu religious practices, and became widespread in the West in the 1960s with the development of transcendental meditation (TM), which is described as a 15 minute mantra routine performed twice daily.
TM has been popular in classrooms because of its short duration and its relatively easy learning curve. Also, it can be done in groups, and therefore may be more comforting for students.
There are several variation of zen practice. Soto Zen is a tradition based on mindfulness and open awareness done by focusing on the sitting position and releasing all other thoughts and emotions. Rinzai Zen is the practice of concentrating on koans, which are riddles that cannot be answered with knowledge or thinking. The riddles are provided by a Zen teacher who varies the riddle according to level of practice.
Vipassana is another practice that is now widespread in the West. Vipassana involves observing breath beginning around the nose and focusing on sensations in body parts. When the mind wanders, practitioners bring their focus back to the sensation of breathing. This is another practice that can be performed anywhere, and could be useful for students who need a break while studying or to relax before a test.
This type of meditation is based on being mindful, or having an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment. These types of meditation are more individualized, and can be practiced alone either sitting, walking or practicing yoga.
Guided Meditation and Visualization
Visualization, which is common in Tibetan Buddhism, includes focusing on sacred objects. Guided imagery or visualization can include focusing on images of relaxing places or situations and often motivates the use of senses such as smell, sight and sound.
For those looking for a more physical release, the following practices involve movement:
Qi gong: The traditional Chinese practice of Qi gong combines meditation, physical movement, breathing and relaxation to restore and maintain balance.
Tai chi: A gentle form of Chinese martial arts performed through a series of self-paced postures and movements while practicing deep breathing.
Yoga: A practice of meditation in movement blending specific physical postures, breath patterns and body awareness.
Meditation is a healthy release that can aid your academic experience and provide lasting benefits. Be open to this new vehicle for stress-relief and you will find the style that works best for you.