10/13/2014 12:05 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2014

All-Natural Student Stress Remedy: Silencing the Mind

Being a student is hard. We all know that. Academic pressures, emotional exhaustion, financial insecurity, and the dire desire to achieve are only some of the numerous frustrations that the academic realm can generate. Of course there are many wondrous qualities of intellectual pursuit as well. However it is difficult to disallow the negative aspects to dominate your outlook on school. So what do you do to escape the stress associated with college life? Yoga, TV, mindless Internet surfing, eating, the gym, partying on weekends? Or do you succumb to it -- do you let anxiety and fear shape your life? Alternatively, do you find the struggles of academia enthralling and motivating? Whatever your personal situation is -- happy or sad, frustrated or excited, motivated or demotivated -- meditation can be a source of personal revolution. I first dabbled in meditation practice on my own a few years ago -- simply to escape negative approaches to varied aspects of my life: my social standing, academic status, family dramas, etc. Honestly I felt it was a waste of time. Silencing the mind (a very difficult endeavor -- let me tell you) was not going to help me get things done, I was too busy. However as cliché as it sounds, my recent trip to India propagated a great paradigm shift in my approach on being young and thrown into the perils and pleasures of student-hood. I spent 10 days isolated in a small village in northern India in silence, meditating for 6 hours a day on basic Buddhist principles (i.e. compassion, theory of emptiness, karma etc.). However there is a multitude of different ways to meditate:
  • Vipassana or mindfulness (being present, focusing on the breath)
  • Guided visualization
  • Kundalini (observing the stream of energy in the body)
  • And many more....
You can meditate on a deity if you're religious, or on your breath, on the present moment, if you're not. That's the beauty about meditation; it's accessible to everybody. You don't need to escape on a soul-searching journey to India to reap the benefits of developing a meditation routine; you can simply start in your room. Although my trip instigated the 're-discovery' of meditation, I have realized that immersing myself in the cleansing processes of clearing the mind has been the most valuable in my home town, being a student, while living a "normal" (Western) life. The advantages of taking 15 minutes out of your day to focus on yourself, on silencing the mind, on observing the inner-workings of your being can be life changing.

On a practical level, meditation can aid in insomnia, stress, emotional instability, depression, productivity, concentration, eating-habits, and the list goes on... As students, we are all subject to these difficulties associated with academic endeavors.

However, one of the things I find most beneficial is the outlook meditation gives me on life -- on being compassionate towards other people, on embracing the turbulence of humanity with understanding and empathy. This ultimately leads to an amelioration of relationships with others, and of course with oneself. It ultimately leads to true happiness.

My suggestion would be to pick a corner in your room/apartment, or go outside where you can allot 15 minutes a day on reflective awareness. Sit down, or lie down, and close your eyes. Play around with what feels right to you. Maybe you focus on the breath, or on the sounds around you. Maybe you enjoy guided meditations, listening to music.

It could include prayer or visualizations; what ever you are comfortable in doing will speak to you. Try and eliminate mindless chatter during this time -- don't use it to think about what assignments you have due, what you're going to wear, what you're going to cook for dinner. This is the time where you can stop and simply be. It might not be obvious, but staying silent, unmoving and focused can be difficult. The obstacles might be unwarranted or inspiring. The changes might be ominous, awesome, or absent. Whatever the circumstance, these fifteen minutes are the perfect moment to just let life live through you.

Some cool resources to get started:

A great free app: Insight Timer (Guided meditations)

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Youtube for guided meditations