Students use meditation to focus

Breathe in. Hold. Release. Repeat.

Do you feel calmer?

Some students have turned to meditation as a useful way to help study for finals and focus their attention.

Kylie Contreary picked up meditation and yoga at the beginning of the year to help her cope with an increased workload and the stress of starting college.

The first-year English student now repeats a meditative breathing exercise three times a week to help her focus for her upcoming finals and papers.

“Usually, if I’m stumped with a paper and my thoughts just aren’t happening, I’ll sit down and work on trying to clear my head,” Contreary said. “Once I do that I start to organize and I can write more smoothly.”

Regular meditation is a good way not only to focus your thoughts but also to increase attention span and promote a sense of calmness and relaxation, said Andrea Wagner, a yoga and meditation teacher at the John Wooden Athletic Center.

Wagner started the meditation class at the Wooden Center a year and a half ago after finishing her training, and since then she has implemented a variety of methods to help students to focus.

Wagner uses candles and meditative music to help students focus, as well as utilizing the body’s natural power centers in order to help them center and focus themselves.

Besides helping to clear the mind and focus thoughts, meditation has also been proven to be correlated with denser brain matter.

Researchers at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging found that daily meditation helped certain areas of the brain to grow denser.

Researchers studied 22 test subjects who had been meditating on a daily basis for at least five years and compared their MRI scans to those of a control group who do not meditate. The study showed an increase in the density of the gray matter of those subjects who meditated, said Eileen Luders, Laboratory of Neuro Imaging researcher and head of the study.

“I think everybody should meditate because the threshold for being able to do it is so low,” Luders said. “You just need a comfy chair, some quiet and 15 minutes. It’s so simple, but it has huge effects.”

Although essentially a simple process, Wagner also suggested each student experiment with different styles before settling on the one they like.

“Meditation is very personal,” Wagner said. “Students must choose which method they enjoy the most, because you have to figure out which one is best for you.”

For Cara Acker, a student in the Anderson School of Management, straightforward meditation had never been an effective method.

“I wasn’t one of those people who could sit and just clear my mind,” she said. “My thoughts were always whirling, and I found it hard to focus.”

Instead, the active Acker turned to the more physically demanding forms of meditation like yoga and Pilates.

The physical act of manipulating her body and focusing on the movements helped her to clear her head and energized her.

“The physical activity allows me to leave all of my problems at the door,” Acker said. “I would feel the blood moving through my body and I felt a connection between my body and my mind.”

Acker also said she uses her meditation in order to elongate how late she can stay up and study.

“As a student, I found that on the days when I did yoga and meditated in the afternoon, I could focus for a longer time and stay up later,” she said.

For students who want to try meditation at home, Wagner said she suggests simple breathing exercises.

“Find a quiet place to sit, and then focus on your breathing. And every time your mind wanders to something that isn’t your breath, just refocus it,” Wagner said.

The key to meditation is regular repetition, Luders said. Repeating the exercise at least a few times a week can have immense benefits.

“It’s something very intense, very focused, and like exercising, something you do regularly,” Luders said.

[Alexi Boyarsky, Daily Bruin]
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