Is stress already hitting you hard? You don’t have to look further than within yourself for the remedy.
Though it has been around for thousands of years, mindfulness meditation is an up-and-coming practice in our modern day Western society. Especially in a college atmosphere, meditation is a useful tool that can be used to counter the negative side effects brought on by daily stressors.
Thupten Tendhar, who works at the URI Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies, defines mindfulness as, “A living state in which our mind is fully aware of and remains present at the moment.” He added, “Often in our life, lack of mindfulness triggers accident, misunderstanding, disharmony and lost opportunities.”
“We have an inner life, and there is an outer life,” Dr. Celina Pereira, who recently retired as a physician at URI for 38 years, said. “Your perception of your outer life depends on your inner life. And if you don’t nurture that, where are you? And so taking time, even ten minutes a day, just to be with yourself, to come to know yourself, what is a better thing to do?”
Physically, meditation decreases blood pressure and improves the immune system, among other benefits. Additionally, it improves focus as well as quality of sleep. Pereira talks about three basic things that she says every student should know and take seriously. The first two are adequate sleep and nutrition, and the third is looking after your health, “[which] might mean exercising every day [or] it might mean doing no harm to oneself or to others.” She said that stress reduction techniques such as meditation can be introduced on that basis.
Meditation also has many more spiritual benefits that can contribute to stress-reduction. “The most precious thing, probably, that meditation gives us is that it makes you come to know yourself,” says Pereira “Once you do that, you make the correct choices. You automatically avoid stress because you’re not doing the wrong thing.”
Tendhar said, “As we develop high-speed internet, bullet trains, digital economy, competitive environments and nuclear weapons, many people are constantly bombarded with harmful stresses and stressors. It is not new technologies and economic conditions that deliver us stress, but it depends more on how human mind regards and handles those technologies and economies… Meditation gives us good opportunities for a deeper understanding, mental transformation and inner enrichment to safeguard our mind and body from hurricanes of stresses and stressors. Â Whenever we are able to maintain our mind clear and peaceful we can enjoy a stress-free life despite conditions and material productivity.”
Pereira and Tendhar talk about the practice of meditation. “It’s like learning to play a musical instrument, except that the musical instrument is your mind,” Pereira said. “The more you practice, the more your horizon seems to get bigger and bigger.”
Tendhar said, “Like writing skills are developed through writing practice, meditation skill has to be improved though meditating. It is very important to understand that meditation is a mental practice that can be carried out in any physical posture at any available place.”
As Tendhar said, the practice of meditation is not confined to a formal, seated position. For some students, the idea of such a practice might seem like a chore, as it can be difficult to find the time even to sleep or nourish oneself. But meditation is as flexible a practice as you make it.
“[Meditation] is easy to integrate [into your life] if you remember that you can do it anywhere, anytime,” said Pereira. Even walking from class to class, or standing in line at the cafeteria.
“If you can stay in the moment,” says Pereira, “or if you can focus on the breath at that time, walking is okay because that’s the time you have… As a student, you’re being bombarded with people, with lectures, with things to do… so these are precious moments, and if you can capture them to re-energize yourself, then it’s really worthwhile.”
“You can start by taking some deep and slow breaths,” Pereira said. “Physiologically what this does is it triggers the vagus nerve, which is the relaxation nerve.” Tendhar said that breathing and mindfulness meditations are helpful for those who are currently facing stress or who aim to prevent future stress. “For breathing meditation,” he said, “one can simply concentrate on inbreath and outbreath, or visualize releasing stress out of the body when exhaling and think of filling the body with fresh, vitalizing oxygen when inhaling.”
“Initially, it is always easier to do something negative than positive, just as it is less challenging to irrigate water downstream than towards upstream,” said Tendhar. Â It is easy to incorporate meditation into your everyday life once you understand its purpose and lasting benefits, he said.
“For example, you can transform simple mundane activities such as eating and walking into your meditative practices. As a young student there could be more physical, emotional and intellectual challenges that could hamper growth and well-being if one chooses a negative path such as violence to express those issues. Meditation on the other hand gives students some positive and nonviolent options to understand problems and treat their root causes.“
Tendhar and Pereira provide some suggestions for those just beginning their practice. Tendhar said that the beginning of your practice might be challenging, “but remember each step brings you closer to your desired destination… As you wake up every morning, it is good to appreciate your new day and step up with motivation to live a positive and stress-free day… Always remember that a positive practice is a big service for one and all.”
When it comes to meditation, it is helpful to find a quiet place, wherever it may be. There is a meditation room located in the 24-hour room in the URI library, and it is open to all students 24 hours a day. The URI Botanical Gardens are also a wonderful place to meditate.
For those interested in learning more about specific meditation techniques, http://www.relaxationresponse.org/ might be a helpful source. It is Herbert Benson’s website, who is a physician that has done research and written books on mind and body medicine. There is also a module, created by Dr. Pereira, that provides a visualization students can meditate to. This module will be made available through the Health Education Department’s website within the next couple of weeks. Additionally, URI has a meditation club on campus, called Seekers Meditation Group.
Pereira refers to meditation as a “precious” time. “You wouldn’t go one entire day without water, so why would you go an entire day without re-energizing yourself? So put it in your schedule, and then stick to it. And then at the end of the week, ask yourself- so what did I gain? And you will see. Use that as a motivation to go on.”