As the year comes to a close many Mills students have come face to face with the cruel symptoms of finals week: long, sleepless nights, overdoses on caffeine and sugar, and unusual tendencies to bounce between slaphappy hysteria and spiraling misery. While there’s always the option of herbal remedies or stress reduction workshops in Cowell, one option which remains side-effect free while allowing you the freedom of privacy is an ancient tradition observed world-wide: meditation.
For skeptical cynics rolling their eyes and conjuring images of cross-legged gurus, recent years have actually brought considerable medical attention and support to the practice. The Journal of the American Medical Association conducted studies which have shown that the practice “alters brain structure and can reduce the body’s ability to maintain normal physiological and cognitive function.” Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response with an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, writes, “Meditation decreases oxygen consumption, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, and increases the intensity of alpha, theta, and delta brain waves-the opposite of the physiological changes that occur during [stress].”
Those wary and intimidated need not worry: meditation, while requiring patience and practice, needs nothing more than a quiet space, a comfortable position, and a little time. Mark Stibich, Ph.D., tells beginners to start with twenty minutes set aside each day for the practice. Begin by setting a timer, so there’s no excuse to get up and break concentration, find a comfortable spot, and sit upright with the back as straight as possible.
Now here’s the hard part: breathe. Humans take over ten million breaths per year without noticing. What meditation calls for specifically is to bring attention to the breath – notice the inhale, the exhale, and the tiny pause between each breath. There are many forms of meditation which have practitioners either chant a single word, count through breaths, or use specific imagery that is calming and peaceful. The hardest part of this process, is focusing on the breath – too often beginners are constantly judging themselves the entire time, questioning the purpose or if they’re doing it “right.” The mind tends to wander, says Stibich, so all that needs to be done when wandering to either chores or work or anything else is to gently guide the mind back to the breath.
If meditation still remains a daunting task, the Mills Chapel offers guided meditation, which focuses on imagery rather than just silent breathing, every Tuesday. The last session will be this Tues., May 6, however, Reverend Erika Macs encourages students to practice meditation throughout finals to release stress.
“Even in the midst of a final when we become aware of our breath and consciously strive to slow it down,” says Reverend Macs, “the result is a sense of relaxation for the entire body.”
For those looking to practice even after school ends, the East Bay Meditation Center offers free weekly meditation courses for beginners throughout the entire year.
To find out more information, visit their site at www.eastbaymeditation.org.