Meditation can be a successful tool to relieve stress

I don’t mean to alarm you, but finals are only a few weeks away. It’s that final stretch of the semester, and it can be pretty stressful. There are a lot of ways to alleviate stress, but one of the best methods is through meditation.

One of the best parts about meditation is that it’s actually not very hard. Unfortunately, there tends to be this misconception that successful meditation requires you to sit in the uncomfortable lotus position for hours, clearing your mind until you reach some elusive state of mind-expanding nirvana, preferably done while wearing Tibetan monk robes and sitting on a mountain peak.

The truth is, there is no single “correct” way to meditate. There are some guidelines: Sit or lie in a comfortable position, remove distractions — i.e., turn off cellphone — and focus on your breathing. Even just 15 to 20 minutes can be enough to start experiencing some benefits.

You don’t have to be Buddhist or even spiritual to benefit from meditation. Of course, if you are a religious person who already does spiritual exercises, such as prayer, then meditation can be a rewarding addition to your daily repertoire of spiritual enlightenment. On the other hand, those who are skeptical of the spiritual aspects associated with meditation can still enjoy it, for there is a growing body of scientific evidence to support its practice.

In her research, Emma Seppälä, a professor at Stanford University, has found that regular meditation can decrease pain, increase positive emotions, alleviate stress, improve focus and attention, enhance memory, boost the immune system and help control emotions, just to name a few effects. If all those benefits were available by taking a daily pill, everyone would want it. But because it can be hard to set aside twenty minutes a day to meditate, the practice has yet to become mainstream.

So when it’s the last week of class and you have a 10-page paper to write and multiple exams to study for — not to mention a job and social life to worry about — it might seem foolish to stop for half an hour and just breathe. That half an hour could be spent on that essay, after all. But we both know the first half hour of homework time always ends up being random Internet surfing anyway. So when the time comes, turn off your phone and shut down your laptop. Find a comfortable place to lie down. Close your eyes, and breathe. Relax your mind and your muscles. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on stressful thoughts. Picture yourself studying super-efficiently and acing all your tests. Then, when you feel rested, get up and do it. You might be surprised by the results.

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