Formal references to meditation can be found in ancient Buddhist texts as early as the third century BCE, according to some research accounts. The most common meditation practices we use today were born in Asia, and have branched out around the world. Meditation became more widespread in Western culture starting in the 1960s and 1970s.
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 a personal journey, and in that sense, it is a practice developed over a long period of time. Finding the right style of meditation that works for you can help relieve stress – it can also help you find a lasting balance in your academic and personal life. This guide can help set you on the path to finding the practice that is right for you.
Meditation is known to have a wide array of benefits for both the body and mind described by the Meditation Initiative here:
- Improved stress-management skills
- Increased self-awareness and self-image
- Increased 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 important physical implications.
A recent study published in the Psychiatry Research journal found that people who meditate for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable 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 found that there was an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, which is an area important 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.
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 lowered stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression amongst undergraduate students.
An additional study looking at the impact 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 important 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 popular 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 performed 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 performed 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 solved 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 done anywhere, and could be helpful 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, involves focusing on sacred objects. Guided imagery or visualization can include focusing on images of relaxing places or situations and often encourages 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 combining 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.