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Finding a Quiet Place: The Benefits of Practicing Meditation

posted Feb 27, 2014, 3:35 AM by Unknown user   [ updated May 15, 2014, 8:23 AM by Unknown user ]

Alisa Warren

It’s a known fact that high school students experience a lot of stress. This could be blamed on balancing grades, sports, and maintaining a social life (even on the Internet, too), and these factors can create a lot of noise in both the literal and psychological sense. But how can one eliminate this noise? An effective solution may just be to shut the mind up. Yes--by quieting the mind, through meditation.

Meditation, as in what the monks do? Yes, this activity, or rather a state of physical inactivity, is usually associated with the ancient practice of Buddhist monks. But this isn’t limited to the strictly spiritual; it can be for anyone who wishes to focus and quiet the mind, with the ultimate goal of reaching a state of awareness and calm.

Sound crazy? Some even compare it to the benefits of physical exercise, such as Dr. Hedy Kober, a neuroscientist who studies the effects of meditation at Yale University.

"It did to my mind what going to the gym did to my body -- it made it both stronger and more flexible,” said Kober. And that’s exactly what it is: mind-training.

Studies have shown that meditation has effectively helped to improve stress levels and even assist in the recovery process of addicts and eating disorder patients. But how does a good dose of sitting still do all of this?

It’s the science behind it. The act of meditation actually affects the neural circuits of the brain, which is what changes the way humans respond to different situations. Studies have also shown that meditation has allowed blood vessels to dilate, which in turn reduces stress hormones.

Besides the health benefits, the act of quieting “mind chatter” that goes on in everyday brain activity can allow thoughts and ideas to surface more smoothly, producing more access to creativity. This can be an extremely valuable trait to have during many situations, especially when writing that last-minute English paper, avoiding that dreaded writer’s block.

But for the majority of those who still aren’t on the monk-level of inner-calm, it’s hard to know where to start. While there is not an exact blueprint for finding peace, here are some steps to start:

Image courtesy of: labgrab.com (fair use)

  1. Quiet the Environment
    It’s hard to quiet your mind when your can hear the zombies from the latest The Walking Dead episode mumbling in the background, or feel your phone vibrating in your pocket from a very urgent text sent by your significant other. In fact, forget about any of these distractions while you’re practicing meditation. Turn off the TV and put the phone away. But complete silence isn’t necessary, either. Some gentle music or natural background noise should not disturb your experience, but will allow you to stay mindful.

  2. Set Your Timer
    Before you begin your inner-awakening, you should decide how long your meditation session will be. For beginners, 5 minutes is probably an adequate amount of time. Set a timer with a gentle alarm to wake you out of 

  3. your session because checking a watch or clock will be incredibly distracting.

  4. Get Comfy
    This should be greatly stressed. Sit in a comfortable position in comfortable clothing, because sitting still for an extended amount of time can get tiresome. Select a sitting posture that will allow you to sit upright and keep balance. Traditional meditation suggests that the best position is the lotus position, but any position that will allow your spine to sit upright is sufficient. Keep your arms and hands relaxed, whether on your knees or hanging loose by your side.

  5. Shut Your Eyes
    Visual distractions are a no-no, too, when in the process of quieting your surroundings. This is important especially when your are a beginning meditator, as meditation requires full relaxation while still being alert. Don’t think too hard about anything in particular; just let your body relax.

  6. Focus on Your Breathing
    Now that you’re set up with proper form for your meditation experience, it is time to begin meditating. Don’t force or change your breathing pattern, but be mindful of it. Feel your stomach rise up and down as you take air in. Keeping a visual might help with steading your breath: imagine something floating in water, bobbing up and down with every breath you take.

  7. Be Aware of Your Body
    Scan each body part: are they still tense? Tune in your awareness to every part of your physical being to make sure there is no tension or stress.

  8. Picture a Place
    Visualization is a great tool in relaxing the mind. Think about a special place where you feel calm. It might be your favorite shady, wooded area in a park, or maybe a quiet, sandy beach where it’s warm. Wherever it is, allow this to be your mental sanctuary. Take in all of the sensations of your surroundings. What does it look like? Feel like? Smell like? What sounds do you hear? Each time you meditate, you can either return to this special spot or explore a new one.

    Image courtesy of: forwallpapers.com (fair use)

  9. Set Up a Routine
    Once you are done meditating, set up a routine to do this often. What time of day will you do this? Maybe it’s good to start first thing in the morning, or right after school to clear your mind. Whenever it may be, it helps to establish a time slot on your daily schedule.

Those are the basic steps of meditation, but there are no exact steps to achieving proper meditation. You may or may not feel that supposed sense of calm, but like anything, meditation takes practice. Visualization is just one form of meditation. Whatever works to quiet your mind while retaining focus, do it. Just be aware of yourself and your mental cache.  

Meditation doesn’t stop at its formal practice of it, either. Mindfulness can be practiced at all times of the day. When you’re stressed, stop and take some time to breathe. When you’re eating, be aware of what you’re putting into your body, and check yourself to see if you are full. This can all be incorporated into your practice of self-awareness.

Try meditation: it may just help clear your mental noise, or maybe even break some bad habits, or provide you with some last-minute essay inspiration. Tap into your inner monk!