In recent years, mindfulness and meditation practices have become increasingly popular. But what exactly is “mindfulness” and how can it be of use to students?
According to mindful.org, mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Many people think of meditation when they hear the word mindfulness, and to them, meditation is typically envisioned as sitting in a quiet room with your legs crossed and your eyes closed. While meditation is certainly a part of mindfulness, and the aforementioned scene is an example of meditation, it’s not the only way to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is something you can do in many situations, even if you’re on the go or in a loud, busy place.
University students can face many issues in their everyday lives: school stress, friendship or relationship issues, homesickness, family conflict, anxiety about the future, etc. Mindfulness can help students manage these problems, not necessarily by making them go away completely, but by giving them tools so they’re better equipped to handle them. Mindfulness is something that requires practice, and more benefits are seen the more someone practices. That said, here are a few ways you can practice mindfulness even during your busy life as an student:
Think about your commute to classes or work. Whether this is a 5 minute walk or an hour long bus ride, this could be an opportunity to practice mindfulness. It may be tempting to plug in your headphones and listen to music or a podcast, but taking a few minutes to be mindful could improve your mood and focus for the entire day. Try sitting for a few minutes to breath deeply and observing your physical sensations, perhaps taking time to run through each of the senses. Some may be less pleasant: a baby crying loudly in the background, a cold gush of air, noisy traffic, the hard back of your seat…but observing these sensations can help you gain insight into your own mood and interpretation of these feelings. For example, maybe you’re often in a bad mood in the mornings but don’t know why. Is it possible that all this noise and chaos is subconsciously affecting you and making you more irritable? Or that the hardness of your seat is making your back stiff and thus making you feel more tense? Just by observing these things, we can alter the stories we tell ourselves and come to realize that perhaps some of our feelings have simpler explanations than we realize.
Try to picture the last time you walked on your street. What plants did you see? What types of clothes were people wearing? Did you notice anything interesting? Often, we’re so engrossed with our own problems and stresses that we can walk down the street without even paying attention to anything around us. Not only does this exacerbate our stress, but it leads us to ignore things that might be worth noticing. So next time you’re walking, try to shift your focus from your internal world to your external world. Take a moment to look at the way the leaves on a tree sway in the wind. Observe the interactions of people on the corner. Admire the lettering on a shop sign. Sometimes the environment around us might not necessarily be beautiful, but there’s always something to see, and doing so might make you momentarily transcend all the worries running around in your head.
A final strategy you can use to improve your mindfulness is picking an object that you use often and let it serve as a reminder to be mindful. This could be a water bottle that you bring with you to work or a ring that you wear every day. Train yourself so that every time you look at or interact with these objects, your brain reminds itself to be mindful of the moment and your sensations. The object could even be something like a phone, an object that typically serves as a distraction and antagonist to our mindfulness. Each time you pick up your phone, remember to be mindful and aware of what you’re doing, even if what you’re doing is simply scrolling on Instagram. By training yourself to do this, you can make mindfulness a habit.
Mindfulness is a skill that becomes easier and more beneficial the more you practice it. There are many techniques put forth by many different people; find the ones that work best for you and work to implement them to live a happier, calmer, and more mindful life.