Taylor Swift said it best on her album “Lover” in 2019: we all need to calm down. However, staying chill in the face of the hustle and bustle of Miami life can seem impossible sometimes. Meditation is one of the simplest ways to remedy the chaos of our city, and it goes far beyond sitting crisscross-applesauce and humming. Whether from an app or a Spotify track, there are many modernized ways to meditate that might become a great stress outlet.
The technical definition of meditation is to engage in specific mental practices to cultivate beneficial mental qualities: there isn’t exactly a right or wrong way to do it. The same way that different stressors impact people differently, there’s a multitude of meditation practices that work for different people. These methods can vary by location, time of day, frequency and length per session.
No Right or Wrong
Max Stone, a freshman finance major and fitness enthusiast, enjoys meditating after working out at the Herbert Wellness Center.
“I like to meditate explicitly in the sauna because a key part of meditating is being able to focus on a sound or vibration, like your breathing,” said Stone. “Being in an enclosed area like a sauna where it’s really quiet helps with that.”
Stone started practicing meditation during his first semester at UM to help implement discipline and patience into his daily life while creating “an outlet to relieve stress and just focus on [himself].”
“It’s become a core part of my life after working out, just going to the sauna for 15 minutes and decompressing,” Stone said.
As a first-year student, Stone lives on campus, which gives him easy access to the Wellness Center’s peaceful sauna. But meditation can be done from anywhere, even in your own bedroom.
Brittani Mays, a junior double majoring in political science and public administration, lives off-campus and often meditates after waking up or before going to bed.
“I would say my meditation schedule isn’t necessarily on a day-to-day basis. But if I’m going through something or have a lot on my mind, I’ll do it,” said Mays. “I like closing my eyes and sitting somewhere comfortable. Usually, I will sit in my room on my floor because if I lie down on my bed, I know I will fall asleep.”
If you want to venture into the world of meditation but don’t know where to begin, YouTube is a great starting place. There are millions of guided meditation videos on YouTube for different purposes like relaxation, mental clarity or self-empowerment. Pick what you feel you need most.
Practicing meditation, as relaxing as it may seem, can be difficult. It’s commonly believed that the goal of meditation is to “clear your mind.” However, fully escaping your thoughts can prove to be challenging.
Dr. Amishi Jha is a psychology professor and director of the contemplative neuroscience program at UM. Her studies have confirmed the positive impact of meditation and mindfulness on mental health. But what’s the difference between the two?
“Meditation is an under-specified term, a general category. Within the umbrella term of meditation, there are different subcategories … [including] mindfulness meditation,” said Jha. “The specific mental quality we aim to cultivate is presence-centered attention that is not emotionally reactive and not evaluating what’s going on.”
Along with conducting research, starting the UMindfulness program, and writing her own book, titled “Peak Mind,” Dr. Jha still finds the time to teach and inspire undergraduate students.
This semester, she’s teaching a course called “Mindfulness Attention in the Brain,” where students learn about the neuroscience behind mental intention and are taught mindfulness techniques.
If you want to practice meditation but are having trouble focusing, Dr. Jha recommends taking these three steps:
- Focus on a specific target — your breathing, some music, whatever you use to help meditate.
- Notice when your attention is not on that target.
- Redirect your attention to the target. Just like a sport, practice makes perfect, and mindfulness is all about self-correction.
So how do meditation and mindfulness impact the brain? Psychology professor Dr. Elyse Hurtado, explained that meditating focuses on deactivating your Default Mode Network. The Default Mode Network, or DMN, is only active in your brain when you defocus on outside world and can only be measured in an MRI scanner.
“Research shows that people who are experienced in meditation, their DMN is less active, which is a good thing because having an overactive default mode network is associated with stress and anxiety, maybe even depression,” Dr. Hurtado said.
While making meditation a habit seems daunting, there is no downside to giving it a try. It’s much simpler than meets the eye.
- Headspace: Mindful Meditation: Ryan Reynolds said he uses this app to manage his anxiety, and I will believe anyone wise enough to marry Serena van der Woodsen.
- Aura: An Apple Best of Apps winner, Aura allows you to personalize your meditation practice with content choices that include hypnosis, prayer, life coaching and more.
- Meditopia: Sleep, Meditation: Want to fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves or white noise but are stuck in the dorms with a sleeping roommate? Put on your headphones and sleep like a baby with a wide variety of sounds from Meditopia.
- Peak Mind: Dr. Jha’s bestselling book is becoming an app. Be on the lookout!
- Michael Sealey
- Your Youniverse
- Great Meditation
- Tara Brach
words_amanda mohamad. design_elizabeth vila. photo_ethan dosa.
This article was published in Distraction’s Summer 2023 print issue.