I’ve always heard great things about meditation but never knew how to start. I wanted to create a continuous, calm state of mind for myself, away from the hustle and minutia of everyday life. Thus, my journey into meditation began. I noticed the more I meditated, I was not only more tranquil and relaxed, but I also had an increased proclivity to perform better academically. So, in the interest of sharing these benefits with my colleagues, I came up with a compilation of the most effective steps and resources I found invaluable.
Meditation: Take control and Train your Brain!
Many times we find it hard to focus or concentrate on the task at hand. The hustle of keeping up with lectures or the stressful nights staying up studying for the next exam all cause us to have more anxiety than peace of mind.
In preparing for a marathon, runners always make sure to stretch and exercise their muscles. They train for their job of running. But, how can you train for your job of studying? The answer is: meditation. Meditation is the ‘bench press’ equivalent for your brain. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is scientifically validated and does not require you to be associated with any faith or religion.
Neuro-scientists from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have conducted multiple studies and found that there is a significant increase in cortical thickness in those who meditate. Through the use of MRIs they noted that in the “brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula.” Scans showed that 50 year old meditators have the same amount of prefrontal cortex as 25 year old meditators, suggesting that “meditation practice may slow age-related (natural) thinning of the frontal cortex.” The prefrontal cortex houses active and working memory in addition to governing executive decision making. The studies also showed a marked increase in the left hippocampus which assists in learning, memory, and emotion regulation. At the same time, a decrease in gray matter was seen in the amygdala.The amygdala is known to increase with stress, yet it began to decrease in size after meditation even when participants were still exposed to the same environmental stressors. Meditation is found to reduce stress, anxiety, helps you to relax, and increase neuroplasticity and overall mental well being.
A Beginner’s Steps to Meditation
For those who have always been intrigued by meditation but do not know where or how to start, I’ve created a step-by-step guide. Meditation is very simple and comes easily with practice.
Step One | Find a Quiet and Comfortable environment.
- Once you have found a place where you can meditate without disruption, put away any electronics that you may find distracting and dim the lights.
- You can sit on the floor or on a chair, preferably with your feet on the ground and your back straight. However, if you find yourself more comfortable lying down, you are more than welcome to do so.
- There is no one way to meditate.
Step Two | Close your eyes.
- Take a moment to close your eyes and relax your body.
- Remain still and let your body become loose and less tense.
Step Three | Find your breath.
- Now that you’re starting to relax, become aware of your breath. Feel the sensation of breathing.
- Focus on the breath as you inhale and exhale deeply. Feel the sensation of the air passing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice your chest expanding and contracting.
- Be aware of physical sensations throughout your body.
Step Four | Do not try to stop thinking.
- In the beginning stages of meditation, it is normal for there to be a lot of ‘chatter’ in your head. You may feel a plethora of thoughts racing about.
- Do not actively try to stop thinking or you’ll defeat the purpose of quieting your mind by giving it another task.
- Allow your thoughts to flow through your mind. Like a river, they will continue flowing if you don’t try to stop them. Acknowledge your thoughts, know that they are there, but do not engage them. Let one thought, flow to the next.
- Return back to the focus on your breath. Whenever you find yourself drifting away, return and find your breath.
Step Five | Calm your mind and focus.
- You can either continue to focus on the breath or use a mantra such as “Aum” or a prayer that you are used to.
- Maintain focus on either your breath or mantra.
Step Six | Practice
- You can end your meditation whenever you feel fit, the minimum recommended time is 15mins. But results can still be seen with less.
- Do not be discouraged if you found it difficult the first few times. It may take a week or more for your mind to break habits that are as old as you.
- Continue to practice every day and I promise that you will feel the results.
It’s best to start meditation with a guided audio track to help you focus before you learn to meditate on your own.
By: Shoban Jayamohan, Preclinical Sciences 3
Guided Mediation tracks:
UCLA School of Medicine
YouTube Guided Meditation Videos