Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation

As the semester kicks into full swing, it is important to stay on top of your mental health as well as your physical health because both go hand in hand in contributing to personal well-being and even academic success. One simple way to address mental health is to spend some time in quiet thought, aka meditate. While there are various forms of meditation to choose from, we took a look at one, in particular, that may not only help you relax after a busy day, but also may provide additional benefits.

One of the more popular types of meditation is called focused attention (FA) meditation where you, quite simply, focus on one thing. This “thing” could be a sound, an image, an object, your breath, or a sensation. Some examples are the sound of a metronome (there are apps for that), scented candles or a picturesque view of nature. Whatever you feel is captivating can work. Once you’ve picked your sound/image/object/etc., sit with good posture, close your eyes, relax your body and focus on that thing. The goal isn’t to think about the thing, but to experience it. Focus on the sensation it provides and be fully present in the moment. If you are just starting out, this may be difficult, but if you continue to work at it, meditation can be very rewarding.

According to scientific studies, repeated practice of FA meditation may help you sustain attention longer and more easily, which is pretty helpful for a two-hour lecture. Like any other skill, attention takes training. To start increasing your skill level in this area, try practicing focused attention meditation in five-minute sessions and work your way up to 30-minute sessions. As you improve, you may start to reap the benefits of a higher attention span in and outside the classroom!

Evidence from UCLA suggests that the number of years of meditation practice has a positive correlation to increased ability to process information at higher speeds, make decisions, form memories and more. A variety of meditation types were tested, all with similar results, so pick your favorite and get to it. Other possible benefits include increased emotional control, self-regulation and awareness. 

A healthy diet can also go a long way in helping you focus on focusing rather than how hungry you are. Recent scientific findings indicate that brassica vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi, containing isothiocyanate, could work to prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases and improve brain function. Another healthy option is switching out simple carbohydrates with complex ones like whole grain. This switch will keep you full longer and sustain your energy levels throughout your meditative practice.

Practicing meditation and improving your diet can be positive lifestyle choices for people from all walks of life. Particularly as this semester continues on, don’t be afraid to take some time to for yourself and meditate!

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