Minding the End
By: Shota Fuse
University of Minnesota senior Camille Ristow balances a 20-credit course load with a part-time job, and volunteer work at a local community center. All this would be manageable, she maintains, except that several of her close friends are going through tough times and Ristow finds it hard to let go of the anxiety she feels for them.
“Most of my stress comes from me worrying about my friends,” Ristow says. “Usually what happens is, I’m stressing out about my friends and then I don’t do my homework.” Luckily for Ristow, she is learning how to reduce her stress and regain calmness and focus through techniques learned in a course on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
MBSR is a mindfulness meditation and yoga practice that has been shown to help alleviate mental and physical health problems, from chronic pain to extreme anxiety. Whether you are tense about midterms or relationships, struggling with health issues, or perhaps anxious about the impending “Mayan Apocalypse,” meditation using MBSR techniques can help you cope.
“Meditation means coming to rest; composing the body; going inward and being with self,” says Eric Storlie, a professor at the U of M’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. “Mindfulness meditation is composing the body; sitting still, but giving the same attention to our present, right now.”
How does it work? Your mindfulness decreases when, for example, your mind wanders while driving a car. It increases when you focus on your driving—on the road ahead of you, the sound of the engine, the feel of your hands on the steering wheel. Therefore, mindfulness meditation means that you deliberately focus on your entire body while meditating.
While mindfulness meditation requires some lessons to be most effective, that does not mean that you cannot incorporate it into your life right now. Here is a basic guide to get you started:
1. Find a place where you feel at ease. Make sure there is nothing close by that is likely to distract you. (In other words, turn off your cell phone.)
2. Choose a relaxed and comfortable position. There is no strict rule about what posture is appropriate or effective, so you can sit down on the floor or on a chair. But consider finding a position that brings your body to rest.
3. Listen to your body. Remember, mindfulness meditation is not about making your mind empty, but about paying attention to your entire body. Try to feel your body as a whole at first, and then do what MBSR practitioners call a “body scan.” Focus your attention on each part of your body, starting from your head and going all the way down to your feet.
4. Breath. The breath is another important point of focus, especially for beginners, because it’s easy to find your mind wandering elsewhere. Storlie calls breath an “anchor of attention.” If you notice your mind is wandering, focus on your breath to help you to regain your concentration. “The breath is always here in the moment,” Storlie says. “The breath is never in the future or in the past.”
5. Do your research. If you want to learn more you can download free meditation podcasts from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center’s website, or follow Storlie’s suggestion to join the University of Minnesota’s “mindfulness club.”
After nearly two months doing mindfulness meditation on a regular basis, Ristow appreciates its effects on her. “Meditation helps me be in the present,” Ristow says. “Every meditation session, I end up feeling a lot more calm. Through meditation I’ve been learning to not stress out about my friends as much.”