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Student Success Guide

Meditation

What is Meditation?

Evidence demonstrates the existence of meditation as far back as 1,500 BCE (Before Common Era) originating in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist religions, but if you look for a definition of meditation, you'll find each reference will have a separate and unique definition.  For example, some definitions of mediation are:

National Institutes of Health (NIH):  Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.

Multiple References:  Meditation is a science, the systematic process of training the mind.

The Free Dictionary:  Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.

Multiple References:  Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. 

Mayo Clinic:  Meditation, a type of mind-body medicine, has been practiced for thousands of years. During meditation, you develop intentional focus — minimizing random thoughts about the past or future.

As you can see, there are numerous definitions of meditation, but they all have a few concepts in common:  Mind, body, concentrated focus, increasing awareness, and health effects.  Depending on the type of meditation you practice, it may have a slightly different definition even, but in general, meditation is the concentrated focus on a particular center point, which may be your breath, a candle flame, a visualization, or sound for example, while recognizing your mind's thoughts, but not engaging within them.  

Meditation sessions can last for a few minutes to hours depending on the type of meditation practice.       

 

Benefits of Meditation

If you do a internet search for the benefits of meditation, you will find a lot of claimed benefits including: improve your focus, health, sleep, intelligence, stress response, connections with others, empathy, mental awareness, concentration and decrease depression, anxiety, pain perception while providing emotional stability, boosting production, losing weight, and changing your brain waves and function.  

The actual researched benefits of meditation include three categories:

Physiological Effects
  • Decreased:  BP, stress response, HR, respiration rate, pain and pain perception
  • Increase alpha waves (awake but very relaxed), increased brain function
  • Changes brain development (increase grey matter)
     
Psychological Effects
  • Improved: concentration, focus, mental/emotional health, sleep, feelings of happiness, acceptance, empathy, compassion
  • Reduced:  perception of stress, anxiety, depression
     
Health Conditions
  • Improvements for:  High blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain
     

Just as medications and exercise can have different effects on individuals, so can meditation.  Just because you meditate, it doesn't mean you will experience any or all of these benefits.  Also, like exercise, to develop these benefits and effects of meditation, you have to have a consistent and regular practice.  Just as you don't expect to get in shape working out once a week, you shouldn't expect to gain the benefits of meditation by practicing infrequently. 

How Do I Meditate?

Meditation is the hardest, simplest thing you can do : )   Meditation can be as simple as sitting and focusing your attention on your breath or an object for a few minutes.  Depending on the type of meditation style you practice, there will be different techniques and goals to your meditation practice. 

There are a lot of different types of meditation practice, but one of the most common practices is mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness meditation is a very general term and there are a lot of different styles of mindfulness meditation, but mindfulness meditation is a great beginner style of meditation to start with.  Mindfulness meditation focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of your thoughts and environment while letting your thoughts pass without involvement- you are simply an observer of your thoughts.  Commonly one will focus on your breath and when your mind wanders, do not engage with the thoughts (you are not your thoughts), and return your focus back to your breath. 

Here are six simple steps to starting your meditation practice:

  1. Dedicated time(s) to meditate each day
    1. Try starting with 5 minute sessions

  2. Identify a dedicated location to meditate each day
     
  3. Identify your goals
     
  4. Identify which meditation practice you will utilize
    1. Easiest to start with guided mindfulness meditation sessions (See Meditation Reference tab)

  5. Identify body posture and hand signal (mudra)
    1. Find a comfortable body posture, sitting or laying down, and a hand position for your session

  6. Reflection
    1. Take a moment and reflect upon how your session went and if there need to be any changes- such as body position

 

You must make meditation a priority in your life.  A lot of people say they don't have time to meditate, but yet will spend 60+ minutes browsing through their social media sites.  One can find three 5 minute sessions to meditate each day, it is a matter if you make it a priority. 

 
 

Meditation Resources

There are a lot references and resources for meditation practices including YouTube videos, blogs, phone apps, and websites.  Meditation has become commercialized where you can buy certain phone apps, go to meditation classes, take meditation courses, and even go to meditation retreats, but there are a LOT of free sources to assist you in starting your own meditation practice. 

Here are a few references to use to help start to build your meditation practice:

UCLA Free Guided Meditations

UCSD Free Guided Meditations

Center for Contemplative Mind in Society Free Guided Meditations

MayoClinic- New Way to Meditate

Stop, Breathe, Think: Mindfulness and Meditation app (iPhone)

Stop, Breathe, Think: Mindfulness and Meditation app (Google)

Practical Meditation book by Giovanni Dienstmann