With students’ hectic schedules it’s often difficult to find free time to socialize, let alone sit in silence by yourself. According to multiple studies done by Harvard, MIT, and others, meditation could be the key to improving productivity and concentration, thus helping students to accomplish more in less time, freeing up more of their day for enjoyment.
In Sindya Bhanoo’s New York Times article, “How Meditation May Change the Brain,” she reports on a study in which participants meditated for 30 minutes per day for eight weeks. The findings of this study demonstrated how the calming effects of meditation can be medically proven through technology such as M.R.I. scans.
“M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress,” Bhanoo said.
Anne Trafton, author of “The Benefits of Meditation,” examines an MIT study that came to the conclusion that while meditation can help people feel calmer, it is not necessarily because it eliminates stress from their lives, but instead helps practitioners to manage their stress in a focused and productive way. Instead of letting stressful situations overtake their thoughts and distract them from the task at hand, participants in this study were able to handle stressful situations with relative ease and move on with their day.
Anastasia Stephen’s article, “7 Health Benefits of Meditation,” looks at how meditation can affect practitioners both mentally and physically. While the usual calming effects of meditation were apparent, a Harvard study found that disease-fighting genes were more active in those who practiced relaxation techniques or meditation. In addition, those who practiced meditation on a more prolonged, regular basis reaped even greater benefits.
“More encouraging still, the benefits of the relaxation effect were found to increase with regular practice: the more people practiced relaxation methods such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure,” Stephen said.
In this same article, Stephen summarizes a variety of studies pertaining to the practice of meditation and its physical benefits. Seven of the main points she brings up are increased immunity, better emotional balance, increased fertility, irritable bowel syndrome relief, lower blood pressure, anti-inflammatory properties, and calmness.
While the idea of meditation seems simple enough, there is definitely an art to it. In order to experience all of the health benefits associated with meditation, it has to be done properly.
‘’What you’re looking for is a state of deep relaxation where tension is released from the body on a physical level and your mind completely switches off,’’ he says. ‘’The effect won’t be achieved by lounging round in an everyday way, nor can you force yourself to relax. You can only really achieve it by learning a specific technique such as self-hypnosis, guided imagery or meditation,” Stephen said.
While each meditation practitioner is different, there are a few common methods that many use. With a “body scan” for example, the meditator begins with either their toes or head and moves over their body, relaxing each muscle as they go in order to achieve a state of total physical relaxation. Another technique, “breath focus,” involves tuning into breathing and focusing on abdomen movement with each inhale and exhale. “Mantra repetition” is centered around the repitition of a simple phrase (it can be as simple as “om”) in order to focus the mind and drown out any outside thoughts. One final technique, “guided imagery” involves picturing a landscape or sensation, calming the mind and relaxing tension in the body.
Between homework, clubs, jobs, and other activities that students are involved in, meditation can be beneficial in many ways.