Meditate, for better ?health and focus

I’d like nothing more than to include a meditative exercise in this column, but I can’t: My readers are too busy to meditate — or so they believe. They have no idea what they’re missing.

For everyone who thinks meditation is nothing more than sitting cross-legged and humming, let’s go over the facts.

Research has shown that meditating habitually can lower blood pressure, improve one’s immune system and may decrease the risk of heart attack.

Meditation also helps you focus. In a recent study, subjects trained for three months in meditation developed enhanced “attentional stability,” i.e. focused thought free from mental wandering.

For these reasons, meditation must be taken seriously. But what exactly defines the act?

Rob Nairn, author of “What is Meditation?” calls it “a highly alert and skillful state of mind because it requires one to remain psychologically present and ‘with’ whatever happens in and around one without adding to or subtracting from it in any way.”

It’s a mouthful, but that last point about arithmetic is a crucial one, especially for students. Non-meditators almost never think about anything without over-evaluating, contextualizing or otherwise judging it, and that’s only natural. They fail to be mindful.

Mindfulness is a concept inextricably linked to meditation, involving nonjudgmental, centered awareness. When we criticize our surroundings or ourselves we miss out on the de-stressing benefits of being mindful.

And when we let our minds wander to other topics, we may also set ourselves up for a bad mood later on. Surprising new research in Science magazine has indicated that daydreaming might actually make people sadder.

The moral is: Mindful focus is good for you; unbridled reverie is bad. And while most of us can’t escape to the Himalayas to drink tea and ponder, all of us can (and should) afford ourselves some time for meditation. Thousands of guided audio exercises, some as short as five minutes, are available online. UNC Counseling and Wellness Services even offer group meditation classes.

If you’re still stuck in the mindset that sitting peacefully would be a waste of time, you might try an ancient Hindi practice that incorporates both mindfulness and physical fitness: yoga.

Today, in America, the link between yoga and meditation is often downplayed, but in traditional practice the former is nothing without the latter. If you want to experience the psychological benefits of meditation within a modern yoga class like those offered at the SRC, you must be mindful: Do not judge your body, and stay present in your breathing and in the sensations that the poses create within you.

Practiced rightly, yoga helps tune out the stressors in life and “tune in to what your body is doing,” says Lindsey Cannon, student and yoga instructor for the Campus Rec. She learned early on “how important it is to focus on your thoughts,” and believes that focus is responsible for its practitioners post-session state of rest.

I can personally attest to that rested feeling. I attended one of Lindsey’s classes last spring before a morning midterm. The relaxation I procured lasted well through my exam, helping me to focus better than coffee ever has.

Matthew Moran is a Life Coach for the Daily Tar Heel. He is a sophomore English and math decision science major from Ridgewood, NJ. Contact him at mcmoran@email.unc.edu.

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