It’s no secret that college life can be pretty hectic. Between your internship, your clubs, your classes, your homework, your part-time job and your social life (if you can even manage to have one!), you can build up a pretty overwhelming amount of stress, which can have some serious side effects. A quick gym session or striking some yoga poses can do the trick of relieving some of those stresses, but sometimes you’ll find your schedule is too busy to even squeeze gym time in. How’s a college girl supposed to unwind if she doesn’t even have time to breathe?
The trick is meditation, a mental exercise that allows you to engage in quiet thought and reflection. Any collegiette can do it to lessen her daily stress, and it can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day!
To find out more about how meditation works and how collegiettes can incorporate it into their busy schedules, we consulted Carly Lockman, a certified holistic health coach.
How Meditation Works
So what exactly does meditation do?
“Mediation is a very powerful tool for stress relief,” Lockman says. “On a scientific level, even a few minutes of meditation daily works to weaken the neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex, the center of the brain responsible for feelings of fear and anxiety. The more we meditate, the more we are able to regulate our thoughts, feeling[s] and reactions.”
When those daily stresses start to test our patience—and our blood pressure—mediation can actually help us keep our cool. “A normally ‘hot-headed’ person may find themselves able to calmly assess a situation before reacting when engaging in regular mediation,” Lockman explains.
Our minds may be producing an endless stream of thoughts and lists during our busy days, but taking a few moments to prune and hone our thoughts can really make a difference.
How You Can Do It
Though meditation can involve mantras, counting breaths, yoga, chanting and other rituals, you don’t need to know any certain procedures or techniques in order to meditate. That’s the best part about meditation – there are plenty of “right ways” to do it!
All you need in order to meditate is 10 to 15 minutes of your day that you can dedicate solely to relaxing your mind. Bestselling author and blogger Mark Manson recommends even setting an alarm or a timer so you won’t be tempted to check the time. While a quiet room works best (as it offers the fewest distractions), you don’t need to be in a yoga class or in private in order to meditate – you could even do it while taking a walk (as long as you stick to a path where you’re not likely to bump into anyone!).
For the best results, professionals at the New York Insight Meditation Center suggest establishing a daily sitting practice. Here are the six steps they offer to a reflective and effective sitting meditation:
1. Choose a time
“Morning is often best because the mind is calmer than it is later in the day,” according to the center. Ally McQueen, a collegiette from Boston College, likes to meditate in the mornings. “I spend time every morning when I first wake up trying to clear my mind and relax,” she says. “It’s easiest then, before that list of things to do for the day starts to creep in my consciousness.”
However, the best time is one that you can commit to on a daily basis, even if that means breaking your sitting meditation into two shorter sessions. “I love to end a busy day with a bit of meditation,” says University of Massachusetts Boston collegiette Jacqueline Conway. “There’s no feeling quite like flushing out all those thoughts that have gathered in my brain during the day and going to bed relaxed and calm.”
2. Choose a space
No space is perfect, but the Meditation Center recommends dedicating a relatively quiet space exclusively to your daily sitting, if possible: “You may want to create an altar with a candle, inspiring photos or statues. These are not necessary, but are beneficial if they help to motivate you.”
3. Choose an amount of time to meditate for
How long should you meditate for? According to the Meditation Center: “As long as is comfortable, plus five minutes.” 10 to 15 minutes of quiet may seem like an eternity at first, but with practice, that time won’t feel so daunting.
4. Set your posture
Though meditation is about relaxation, your posture should be kept alert. Keep your back straight, even sitting against a wall if it helps, and let your muscles hang freely, with your hands resting on your knees or lap. Close your eyes and draw your attention inward.
5. Relax deeply
Openness is also essential for an effective sitting meditation. With your spine erect, let everything else relax and soften. “You may want to begin at the scalp and move your attention slowly downward, methodically relaxing and softening each part of the body,” according to the Meditation Center.
6. Choose an object of meditation
After you’ve relaxed, you’ll need a place to focus your attention. The Meditation Center recommends you focus on your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, other body changes during breathing (such as the rise and fall of your chest), sounds as they arise from within the body or outside of it and other body sensations as they rise. Whatever you choose to focus on, stay with that object for at least 10 breaths.
You can even download an app to make the process easier. “For beginners I highly recommend using a guided mediation app on a smartphone,” says Lockman. “There are many apps available but the one I like best is Omvana. It contains several free, short meditations, as well as the option to purchase more advanced meditations as you grow in your practice.”
Why You Should Do It
Taking time each day to strengthen our minds can benefit several aspects of our lives. According to Manson, here are just a few of the benefits psychologists and doctors have linked to meditation:
- Increased self-awareness. People who practice meditation develop a greater awareness of their actions and emotions.
- Increased focus and discipline. Regular meditators are better able to retain focus on a specific task and less likely to deviate from that task.
- Reduced stress and anxiety. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders and panic attacks are often recommended to meditate as a way to calm their nerves.
- Better memory and clearer thinking. Meditation allows you to free your mind to retain what is useful and important more efficiently.
- Better intuition. Meditation puts you in better touch with your unconscious decision-making process.
- Increased ability to empathize with others. Brain scans show that meditation activates the positive, happy, empathetic aspects of the brain.
- Decreased need for external validation. By becoming more aware of the thoughts and emotions that dictate your behavior, mediation trains you to become more aware of your needy behaviors so you can become more reliant on self-validation.
Meditation isn’t just beneficial to our mental health – taking a few minutes of time each day to unwind and reflect can benefit our physical health as well! “Benefits of meditation include better memory, increased productivity and focus, lower blood pressure and an enhanced immune system,” says Lockman.
When our busy schedules have us crunched for time, taking 10 to 15 minutes to clear our heads may seem like an impossible task. But remember, collegiettes: taking those few minutes will be well worth your while in the long run. “Whenever I can spare 20 minutes out of my day, I take the time to mediate,” says Sarah Sherry from Elms College. “It’s always hard at first to push all those thoughts away, but once you reach that peace, the feeling is indescribable. I always walk away from a meditation session feeling like I can tackle anything.”