June 16, 2015
Some of the most successful people in the world meditate, including Josh Waitzkin, the only person to have won a championship in every category of chess. In addition, he is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a national champion in Tai Chi. He attributes much of his success to the focus gained from the practice of meditation through various forms of meditation.
Meditation is a practice that has a long history dating back to Hindu traditions of Ancient India. There was always something a bit mystical or mysterious about meditation, but as science has shown in recent years, it is not as “out there” as many think. This article goes into the benefits of meditation and the different methods of meditation that students can use in order to excel in school, perform at a high level in sports and extracurricular activities, and have more emotional control over oneself.
Five Benefits of Meditation
1. Increased Focus
Although it is not understood why, studies have shown that meditation increases the ability to focus for longer sustained periods of time. This benefits students in many ways, including being able to pay attention in class longer, thus improving the chances of material retention. In addition, students who meditate have a higher rate of success in taking quizzes and exams.
Better focus also benefits students outside the classroom — specifically, in extracurricular activities such as football, drama, band, basketball, baseball, or choir. The act of visualization is a form of meditation that many professional athletes use in order to perform at the highest level. Phil Jackson, coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, teaches his players to use Zen meditation to improve their game. He has 11 championship rings, the most in NBA history. Pete Carroll, NFL Superbowl champion coach of the Seattle Seahawks and former USC Trojans coach, also uses meditation techniques at practice. Musician Paul McCartney meditates as well. And as we covered in our recent article on Daily Meditation, even some schools are beginning to integrate meditation into their daily curriculum.
2. Improved Memory
A study in the Harvard Gazette reports that after an 8-week meditation study in which participants meditated for 27 minutes each day, MRI’s (Magnetic Resonance Images) showed an increase in grey matter in the hippocampus region of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory.
An enhanced memory allows students to retain more information, which of course, lends itself to better test scores. But this is not the extent of the benefits of a better memory. One benefit is remembering people’s names that you have just met. As Dale Carnegie wrote in his book, How To Win Friends & Influence People, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” The simple act of remembering another person’s name makes it easier to converse and create relationships. This is a plus for both personal and career lives.
In addition, a good memory means an increased ability to juggle many different ideas and thoughts at once. This is a skill that is useful in carrying thought-provoking, intelligent, and interesting conversations. Furthermore, it is a skill that comes in handy in the workplace and in the world in general, where information is king.
3. Reduced Anxiety and Stress
According to this article from the National Institute of Mental Health, stress can cause digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, depression, and anger, among other symptoms. Under conditions of chronic stress, people may suffer from more viral infections like the flu.
Tragedies, traumatic events, and even minor failures can cause an onset of stress that seems neverending. This is especially true in teenagers and college students, who go through emotional rollercoasters due to hormonal changes and stress-inducing events such as moving away to college or breaking up with a significant other.
Meditation is one way to confront emotions and deal with these stressful events in a healthy way. Vyda Bielkus of Mind Body Green writes about how yoga can be a great form of meditation for gettingover a breakup. In contrast, still meditations like transcendental meditation are great for calming the mind and body.
4. Reduced Fatigue
A study was done at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine that showed that brief meditation sessions (within 4 days) reduced fatigue and increased attention. Jerry Seinfeld is a huge advocate of meditation and its affects on his energy level throughout the day. In his own words, “Sleep is hit and miss. TM [transcendental meditation] is not.”
College is an interesting time in life where students sleep irregularly, consume foods and liquids that are less than healthy for the body, and give up on the healthy exercising habits they indulged in while attending high school. These are all hesee major causes of fatigue. In addition to changing those three lifestyle habits, meditation can help reduce the fatigue felt by the significant life event of going away to school and being bombarded with incredible workloads.
5. Immunity Boost
With a job, five classes, a relationship, and social activities, nobody has time to get sick. Unfortunately, with the lifestyles that many students have, illness is something that is difficult to avoid.
Exercise, a healthy diet, and a regular sleeping schedule are all important to sustain a healthy way of life. Additionally, research from the National Library of Health shows that even a short-term meditation training program can provide significant measurable changes in the immune system of participants.
How to Meditate: A Quick Primer
There are many forms of meditation in the world, and every person’s approach can vary based on their personal preferences. We will go into three of the most common forms of meditation.
- Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which the participant observes sensations in the body. This is a great way to transition students from one lesson to another by helping them refocus and recharge mentally. To practice mindfulness, have your get students into a comfortable position, whether that is laying down, sitting, or somewhere between. Have your students close their eyes and observe how different areas of their bodies feel. Bring their attention to how their lungs inflate and deflate with each breath without necessarily changing the breathing pattern. Then have them move their attention to their feet and notice the pressure on them and whether they are cold or hot. Do this for every single part of the body. This form of meditation helps people become more aware of their mind and body, as well as of their thoughts.
- Transcendental Meditation is a very popular form of meditation in which minute focus is key. In addition to starting off class in a calming manner, using this form of meditation is a great way to recharge your students after lunch, when food coma starts hitting. To do TM, have your students sit up with their backs straight in the lotus position and close their eyes. A mantra, which is considered by many to be a sacred word that is gifted to meditators, is repeated over and over for 20 minutes. TM is usually done twice a day – once upon waking and again at around midday.
- Moving Meditation is a form of meditation that is not meditation in the traditional sense of the word, where participants sit quietly in the lotus position with the eyes closed. Moving meditation includes any physical activity that puts one in a trance-like state. This can be a martial art like Tai Chi, a focus-intensive activity like mountain climbing, or a game like chess. All of these activities require an intense level of focus that some call “the zone” or “flow”. This too is a great form of meditation and can be a great way for students to energize and refresh their minds and bodies while creating a very acute sense of focus.
In order to fully optimize health by reducing stress and increasing cognition performance, it is important for students to embrace a healthy diet, exercise, a regular sleep schedule, and meditation. While it has not been in the conversation until very recently, meditation is just one piece in the overall puzzle of health.