Words by Samantha Ickes

Meditation and yoga often go hand-in-hand. You may be aware that practicing meditation has many benefits, including stress relief and enhanced concentration skills, according to WebMD.

According to a study done at Johns Hopkins University last year, mindfulness meditation has the ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain just as well as prescribed antidepressants. Through meditation, people become “more self aware,” which can alleviate stress and help manage symptoms. Though meditation can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, it is important to remember that meditation is not a sure fix for depression, just like any form of treatment. Meditating daily can help improve focus, which in turn can alleviate anxiety through clearing the muddle of thoughts we as students often feel when school and work become stressful.

A similar study done by Yale University found that meditation decreases activity in the “default mode network,” which is the part of the brain responsible for mind-wandering. According to the study, mind-wandering is typically associated with being unhappy. Through meditating and training the brain to focus on being present, an individual can be happier when routinely meditating. Keeping your mind from wandering can be difficult as a first-time meditator. However, staying focused on the present becomes easier with practice.

It’s difficult to balance being a full-time student in addition to working part-time at a restaurant and a local newspaper. Meditating for 20 minutes a day—even if it’s broken into smaller segments—can help ease anxieties. It also helps your mind focus on the task at hand, whether it’s studying for an exam, writing an essay or concentrating on a lecture.

“I should really read that chapter of American Politics before class tomorrow. I should go to the gym. I need to do laundry. Do I have to work this week? I wonder if Savannah texted me back. What am I going to write that research paper on? Shoot. Is that due next week?”

While trying to meditate for the first time, your mind might begin to race. As I mentioned before, you may find it difficult to stay in the moment when your to-do list keeps running through your mind. Focusing on your surroundings rather than wondering what’s left on your list for the rest of the day can be difficult.

Here are some helpful tips I found online to help with meditation practices:

  1. Start small. Starting in small time increments of three to five minutes is OK. Build to lengthier practices as you go.
  2. Make it a routine. Scheduling a set time and place every day is useful practice.
  3. Start by focusing on your breath. Breathing deeply can help your mind and muscles relax to help your mind quiet.
  4. Use a candle. Meditating with your eyes closed at first may lead your mind to wander too much. Focusing on the light of a candle can draw your mind to the present.
  5. Listen to relaxing music. I personally enjoy the “relaxation” Pandora station, which plays piano instrumentals. You may find instrumental music is very gentle and relaxing for your meditation practice.