Working Out Your Brain

Going to university is, the best period of my life so far. But with all the amazing moments and people I’ve met through the years, and with everything I’ve learned inside and outside lecture halls, I’ve definitely noticed an increase in attention loss and distractedness, and my memory definitely isn’t what it used to be.  
We all know the importance of maintaining our physical health. What we tend to overlook though is the importance of keeping up the health of our mental states. University students face a lot in their daily lives – school, work, relationships, extra-curricular activities – we experience stress like no other, and often we don’t know how to handle it. We get so caught up with everything, we often end up procrastinating, making impulsive (and usually detrimental) choices, and worrying about other things instead of paying attention to our current situation.


Copyright by Moyan Brenn

This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness, basically, is being able to be “present in the moment” without reacting to it, or letting other thoughts/emotions distract you. If this sounds like meditation to you, they are very similar – think of mindfulness as a more general state of being, while meditation is a way that you can practice mindfulness. There is strong research evidence of what mindfulness can do for you: 

  • better ability to focus and concentrate
  • as a way to manage depression, anxiety, and chronic pain
  • improved working memory (so you’re able to better retain new things that you learn/experience)
  • reduced stress and better immune functioning

There are usually two ways of practicing mindfulness: the first is that you’re focusing on a sensation that’s always present (usually breathing, because if that isn’t happening, you’ve got bigger problems), and to refer back to that sensation when your mind begins to drift. The second way is basically looking at what’s going on in your mind as an impartial observer: letting your thoughts come in and out, as if you were sitting on a park bench watching the scene in front of you.
It’s very easy (in a way) to do, and I would suggest taking out some books or reading an article (there’s a great one in this month’s Scientific American Mind that served as the inspiration for this article) to explore some more on your own and find what would work best for you, but here’s some of my own tips:

  • find a quiet space: sit in an upright position that’s comfortable (you can do it sitting cross-legged on the floor in a chair).
  • I always like to light a candle when I meditate – sometimes I like to focus on the warmth/light of the candle instead of the breath.
  • Keep at it – don’t get frustrated at how much your mind can wander or distracted you can be at first – it gets better with practice.
  • Just go with the flow – if you’re doing it by yourself, usually when you find a method or way of practice they’ll give you a duration. Don’t treat these as rigid time periods, I feel that if your thoughts started to become more like, “oh my gosh, how long has it been?” or “oh no, I’ve got five more minutes, ugh” it would start defeating the purpose. For a five-minute meditation, there are times where I’ve done it for two or twenty minutes instead!

So whether you want a healthier, more ethical alternative to adderall going into one of the most stressful times of the year, or if you want to stop constantly asking your teammates which way you’re running in a game of ultimate like I do, then try it out!
P.S. Check out Headspace – they’ve got a free 10-day meditation program and a smartphone app (so you can meditate on the bus or in the toilet, if you so wish).

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