Less sleep. More parties. Greater responsibilities. Less Time. New friends. More stress.
If this sounds like your life, you might be a college student.
This is an awesome time — the increased autonomy and freedom feel incredible. You’re feeling more adult with less rules and controlled structure. The demands and pressures to perform well academically are as high as those to be socially involved, beautiful and full of energy.
With so many new obligations, our health and fitness commitments can easily be placed on the backburner. The key to maintaining or achieving optimal mental, physical and emotional health is first, acknowledging its importance and making it a priority, and second, developing a health and fitness plan that is doable — meaning you can realistically stick to it.
Why yoga and meditation for a healthy lifestyle?
When most people think of workouts, generally it’s running, lifting weights, cycling or the like that come to mind. Cardio and strength training are amazing routines to develop that engender numerous health benefits. However, research is showing that adding meditation and yoga to your fitness regimen can produce outstanding results.
Here’s what you need to know about what these practices are and why they help, particularly in college years.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness is becoming trendy in the U.S. You’ve probably heard the word thrown around at least several times in the media and amongst friends. Mindfulness is a practice that stems from Eastern practices, such as mediation and yoga. It involves cultivating a nonjudgmental, present moment awareness. With an objective mind we observe how things look, smell, sound, taste and feel right now, without formulating opinions about what we discover. In turn, mindfulness meditation involves sitting quietly with eyes closed while bringing forth a nonjudgmental in-the-moment focus, oftentimes, on the breath.
A study by researchers at The University of California showed that mindfulness meditation can increase cognitive function and ability to focus. Not only does this include an increased ability to delegate attention to a specific task in class, and in turn score better on exams, but this includes better quality of communication and relationships. As we’re more present to listen, hear, interpret and understand ourselves and others, things begin to shift across environments, not just the classroom.
Now let’s talk about sleep or lack thereof. Adequate sleep really is necessary for optimal health and graceful aging. Our bodies interpret lack of sleep as stress, and though we may not feel the effects of stress immediately, eventually they catch up to us. Research is showing that regular meditation leads to more restful sleep. One study found that regular meditators spend more time in Stage Three and Four sleep, which is deeper more restful sleep. Deeper and more restful sleep means you need less of it to function well and feel good.
What about Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India 5,000 or more years ago (it is hard to identify an exact date for when the earliest seeds of yoga were planted, but we know it was at least 5,000 years ago). Yoga is a philosophy that consists of eight main principles, or limbs (as written in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). Yoga however, can more easily be understood as encompassing three main components — meditation, breathwork and physical movement.
Hatha yoga is generally what we think of when we hear the term “yoga” in the West. Hatha yoga is yoga that involves the physical component of movement, or exercise, in conjunction with the meditation and breathing practices. For this reason, yoga makes for a great overall health plan.
There are many different styles of hatha yoga. There are slow and gentle restorative classes at one extreme and power yoga classes at the other. Regardless of style, many yoga teachers incorporate teachings of mindfulness into their classes.
Threading It All Together
Both mindfulness meditation and yoga are not just practices to be done for 20 to 60 minutes and then forgotten until the next time we pull out our meditation cushion or roll out our yoga mat. We are encouraged to keep the energy and effects of these practices with us throughout our day. When we let these practices transition into our everyday lives, we make healthier decisions about many things, from the foods we choose to put into our bodies to the relationships we foster.
Here are some changes you might see from a regular meditation and yoga practice:
1. Greater focus and ability to concentrate
2. Increased relaxation response and decreased stress response
3. Increased levels of empathy
4. Increased levels of self-acceptance and self-esteem
5. Improved relationships and communication
7. Mindful and healthier life choices
8. Improved mental clarity — this includes the ability to plan and organize your life
9. Decreased levels of stress, depression and anxiety
10. Improved mood
11. A greater sense of health and overall well-being
Want to give it a try? Click here to practice a guided mindfulness meditation on breath and sound.
To learn more about yoga and how to begin see: Beginner’s Guide to Yoga: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started
Stay tuned to learn more about how to develop and maintain a daily yoga/meditation practice from your home/dorm room and how to stay motivated to practice when stress is at its highest.