3 Simple Mindfulness Exercises to Help Improve Your Studies
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about paying attention in a particular way to the present moment non-judgmentally. Mindfulness pays attention to the ‘here and now’ without any interpretation. In Japanese and Chinese, the word to represent mindfulness is ‘念’ which consists of ‘今’ meaning ‘now’ and ‘心’ ‘mind’ .
The practice of mindfulness has existed in Buddhism for a long time and became particularly popular in the West from the early ’90’s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of ‘mindfulness’. Unlike traditional approaches in psychotherapy (psychoanalysis, behaviourism, humanism, and cognitive-behaviourism), mindfulness takes a rather simple yet effective approach to help us deal with our stress, anxiety and other symptoms we may feel.
Breathing exercises can be a direct way to approach your mental state from a physical movement. When you feel stressed or anxious, your breathing can become faster or shallower, leaving you feeling like you can’t think straight, let alone comprehend complicated theories or arguments. On the other hand, when you are focused, or in the flow, your breathing tends to be firm and slow. By changing your breathing pattern, you can reduce your stress and anxiety. This exercise is particularly useful to do right before you start studying. Here I have listed the 4-8-8* breathing exercise which includes 3 steps.
- Step 1. Set your alarm for 2 minutes (as you get used to this, you can make it longer).
- Step 2. Make yourself comfortable. If you are sitting on the floor, you can cross your legs. If on a chair, you can put your feet flat and put your hands on each leg. Sit up straight and close your eyes.
- Step 3. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 8, and exhale for 8. While doing this, pay attention to your Tanden (this is the area 9cm or 3-4 inches below your navel) until the alarm goes off.
*Please note: 4-8-8 is an example of a breathing exercise. You can modify these techniques as necessary. In each exercise, exhaling needs to be longer than inhaling.
A relatively easy way to pay attention to the ‘here and now’ is to tune in and be aware of your physical senses (body). Your feelings can be noticed by paying attention to your body-and-mind connection. Often when people are busy, they forget to notice their feelings. If this lasts for a long time, it can sometimes lead to a person developing serious mental or physical health problems. By practicing the body scan mindfulness technique, you can develop the ability to notice your feelings, reducing the risk of suffering from a serious mental health problem. Here is an example of a body scan technique.
- Step 1. Sit comfortably on a chair. Put your feet flat on the floor and rest your hands on your knees. Close your eyes and breathe slowly.
- Step 2. As you breathe slowly, pay attention to how the air passes through your nose and mouth. Expand your awareness to each part of your face. Notice where they are located, how warm they are, how they move etc.
- Step 3. Continue to breathe slowly. As you do, become aware of your upper body, working down from your neck to your shoulders, arms, chest, and stomach.
- Step 4. Carry on working your way down to your lower body, starting at your buttocks and finally moving on to your thighs, knees, calves, shins, ankles, feet and toes.
- Step 5. Expand your awareness to your entire body. Notice how you feel now.
This is a type of meditation technique where you move and adjust your body in a meditative state, thereby creating an awareness of your body. Take 10-15 minutes and walk with no purpose but to meditate. This walk should be done in a safe environment where you feel comfortable. During your grocery shopping or walking to the post box may not be suitable!
Walking meditation starts with you feeling your standing posture. Breathe slowly and deeply, stand up straight and feel your feet, legs, back, upper body, neck and head. As you do this, find a comfortable spot to look at. Usually people look downward to focus on their body sensations. Once you spread awareness to your entire body, make your first step. Feel how your foot moves; how it touches and lands on the floor, then how your body weight sits on your feet. Similarly, pay attention to the other foot moving forward. Repeat this process, and remember to pay attention to your body.
Remember – be sure to choose a safe time and place for walking meditation.
Benefits of practicing mindfulness
Completing a study programme is a journey. You may encounter emotional problems during your exam week, a group project or throughout your assignments. The mindfulness exercises I have described here can be done relatively easily and only take up to 15 minutes of your day. Practicing mindfulness can help you re-focus on the task in hand and will benefit you tremendously. The key is consistency. Like playing the piano, if you practice every day, you will harvest great rewards.