Still thinking about ways of cultivating mindfulness & resilience in students. There’s an excellent article at Psyblog called How Meditation Improves Attention. It provides some evidence from the academics and, usefully for my purposes, a quick beginner’s guide which is simple enough to explain to students.
Meditation is like chess: the rules are relatively easy to explain, but the game itself is infinitely complex. And like chess the names and techniques of meditation are many and varied but the fundamentals are much the same:
Relax the body and the mind.
This can be done through body posture, mental imagery, mantras, music, progressive muscle relaxation, any old trick that works. Take your pick. This step is relatively easy as most of us have some experience of relaxing, even if we don’t get much opportunity.
Bit cryptic this one but it means something like this: don’t pass judgement on your thoughts, let them come and go as they will (and boy will they come and go!) but try to nudge your attention back to its primary aim, whatever that is. Turns out this is quite difficult because we’re used to mentally travelling backwards and forwards while making judgements on everything (e.g. worrying, dreading, anticipating, regretting etc.). The key is to notice in a detached way what’s happening but not to get involved with it. This way of thinking often doesn’t come that naturally.
Concentrate on something.
Often meditators concentrate on their breath, the feel of it going in and out, but it could be anything: your feet, a potato, a stone. The breath is handy because we carry it around with us. But whatever it is try to focus all your attention onto it. When your attention wavers, and it will almost immediately, gently bring it back. Don’t chide yourself, be good to yourself, be nice. The act of concentrating on one thing is surprisingly difficult: you will feel the mental burn almost immediately. Experienced practitioners say this eases with practice.
Concentrate on nothing.
Most say this can’t be achieved without a lot of practice, so I’ll say no more about it here. Master the basics first.
That’s not meditating, that’s sleeping.
There is another article in the series, though, that’s a useful reality check.
Be aware that meditation is quite difficult and the drop-out rates are high from studies which investigate it (Krisanaprakornkit et al., 2006). This suggests some people don’t find it particularly acceptable. For people who can manage it, though, the results are often better than the other techniques (Manzoni et al., 2005). Notice that this technique is much more actively related to the mind than the first three methods. It doesn’t just target the body and wait for the mind to follow, instead it’s about the way attention is focused. This may be partly why people find it harder.