So you signed up for a meditation class your friend referred to as glorified nap time. You hear about the benefits: better focus, cheerier attitude and (gasp) relief of stress. Your curiosity piques. Deciding to actually give this a try, you find yourself disheartened when your first attempts leave you asleep on the floor or sitting with your mind running wild instead of reaching some preconceived state of peace. After all, a busy college student holds precious little free time. However, quitting before you even give it a decent attempt would make you a fool. “Having a wild mind is normal… you can’t force it to be quiet,” said University of Virgnia Meditation Professor Sam Green. Like most things in life, the rewards come with patience.
1. Talk to your teacher
Teachers want to help you, whether you struggle with derivatives or just allowing your mind to go quiet for a couple minutes. “At first it is very common to get frustrated or judgmental with yourself. A teacher can help you deal with that, and keep you heading in the right direction,” said Green. Meditation requires practice and time and your teacher helps to keep you on track.
2. Consider the Norm
College students create high expectations for themselves in order to find success, even when trying something new. We expect ourselves to perform above average. However, remember that being average at something happens sometimes and improvement follows soon. Meditation only improves with lots of time and dedication. Getting better requires effort and patience.
3. Squeeze in little bit of Practice Time every day
“A little every day is far more beneficial than a lot once or twice a week. You are developing a skill—noticing thoughts and being able to let them go. Like any other skill… a little practice on a regular basis is best,” said Green. Setting aside 30 minutes of free time in college seems impossible. Most students spend free time sleeping. Even just five minutes of noticing a breath or acknowledging thoughts supersedes nothing.
4. Don’t pursue perfection
In meditation, the terms “success” and “perfection” do not apply. “Meditation is not a fight to see how quietly and how still you can sit, said Peer Health Educator Lauren Welch. “If your intention is simply to be present for whatever arises, you can’t lose…If your mind is busy and you notice that it’s busy, that’s being aware of what is present,” said Green. Remember that meditation works to help you depart the perfection mindset that plagues so many students. ‘“Mindful practice can help students learn to love and accept themselves for who they are, rather than constantly trying to achieve mystical state called ‘perfection,’” said Welch.
5. Celebrate the small stuff
Because learning how to clear your mind requires time, to keep yourself motivated, reward the small changes you begin to notice. “Many students notice after relatively little practice that they are able to study more effectively, in part because they learn to notice stray thoughts and worries and let them go, and in part because the mind naturally settles and becomes less distracted” said Green. These benefits work to help you find more time for meditation and for yourself. This eludes to a much larger effect over your entire body: mental health. “With ongoing practice, mindfulness has a direct effect on relief,” said UVa student counselor Dr. Baozhen Xie. “It is not simply a strategy but learning to be aware of the stress and how to react.”
6. Pencil in “me” time
Mindfulness is not limited to meditation. “Meditation means being aware of judgment and criticism towards oneself and how to be kind and compassionate to oneself,” said Xie. Its purpose lies in the acceptance of oneself. “One of the biggest components of mindful practice is a non-judgmental awareness of ourselves and the world around us in this particular moment,” said Welch, “This means that we can take a moment to recognize our stress, our self-doubt, our excitement, or our anxiety without making ourselves feel guilty.” This time taken to simply exist provides us with a much needed self-reflection which contains benefits outside of just improving.
7. Accept if it’s just not your thing
Meditation requires a student to self-reflect and this sometimes leads to instances of stress and anxiety. It takes bravery to face what goes on inside your mind while letting it wander. Though most people possess the capacity to meditate, not all maintain the effort and time it demands. Some people just do not like it and use other ways to relieve stress besides meditation.
8. Find a buddy
When attempting to brave through any tough class, students try to keep a friend to suffer with. Pursuing something without someone else to motivate you presents difficulty. Aim not to compare your meditation experiences but to use their practices as an inspiration. “Having a community helps you see the practice as a regular part of your life,” said Green. Use each other to remind yourselves to practice and implement a schedule to stick to together.
9. Let it become a part of your life
Though it is hard to let your mind go blank, overthinking it hampers this process. If you find yourself thinking too much, try acknowledging your thoughts and savor the moments of existence. Sometimes your mind refuses to quiet down, but taking that time to acknowledge the storm requires practice. “Do it just because that’s how you take care of yourself, not because you expect some wonderful experience. In mindfulness practice, less you strive and expect results, the more you can grow,” said Green. When you begin to take time for yourself every day, you notice it no longer feels like a chore.
10. Do it for yourself
Remember what meditation exists for: you. It stops and surrenders your active mind. This experience lets you feel what lives under your active thoughts which sometimes hold the raw emotions you overlook when life becomes busy. “It’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to be stressed, it’s ok to lose motivation, and it’s ok to be tired. What is not ok is ignoring all the signs that tell you to take a break,” said Welch. “I think student culture revolves around the idea of non-stop productivity and tends to shame the idea of breaks, letting self-care fall by the wayside in favor of the arbitrary GPA. Meditation and general stress relief can help us dissolve this unhealthy model of student life, in favor of a balanced and centered approach.” In the end, you meditate for you.