A pang of anxiety welled up within me and suddenly my thoughts were racing. “A test, today? Can’t be!” I thought to myself in panic. Judgments were flying. A whirlwind of emotional distress was headed toward me. Despair ensued and then, calm.
“Breathe in, breathe out.” That’s how it begins. Mindfulness is much more than sitting cross-legged on the floor with your eyes closed. This practice is a way of life, a means of solace from the stresses of everyday living. Take it from a cynic. I myself thought there was no way focusing on breathing could resolve issues with my boyfriend, school work or money problems. The funny thing is that it really doesn’t solve anything, it just makes life easier to live. And many schools around the country are getting it too.
The pressure many students face to obtain the highest grades possible and gain acceptance into prestigious universities, combined with stresses from extracurricular activities, make young adults the most stressed-out group of people in America, according to the American Psychological Association. That is why guided meditation classes now are trending within U.S. schools. Marblehead High School in Massachusetts, for example, opened a Zen room, which offers yoga mats, blankets, serene music and trained mindfulness teachers to guide students through meditation between classes.
Mindfulness is like a massage for your brain. When you are calm and relaxed, everything in life is easier and stress becomes an afterthought. If every Rider student gave mindfulness a try, test scores would rise, panic attacks would sink, and we would have a much better level of calm around campus. What if the university had its own Zen room where students could go in times of stress to decompress from school work, tests and everything else clouding our minds? Our campus would be much more serene and at peace; the entire atmosphere would improve. I didn’t know about mindfulness until stress consumed me and landed me in a counseling office. But if I had known about mindfulness and all of its benefits sooner, I would have had a much better high school and early college experience.
What does mindfulness promise? It will reduce your blood pressure, social anxiety and depression, increase your immune system and improve your focus and your relationships. Not convinced to give it a try? Mindfulness has a great power to enhance self-insight, morality and intuition, and modulate fear. And the best part is, there is science to back this up. With practice, mindfulness can actually change brain functioning and structure, making changes to your mood and behavior as well as enhancing your immune system and decreasing your experience of pain.
The practice of mindfulness is as simple as being aware of what is around you. Take a minute to describe your surroundings, notice colors, smells, feelings, structures, tastes. Be in the now. Focus on your breath. As you inhale, notice how it feels, how warm your breath is as it enters your nose; as you exhale, feel the air escape from your lungs.
And as the master of present thinking, Eckhart Tolle, has said, “If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. Primary reality is within; secondary reality without.”
Junior journalism major
Printed in the 03/09/16 issue.