Focusing on the senses: there are many ways to practice mindfulnessRupa Panda

By far the most unusual hobby I’ve got into at Cambridge is learning to meditate. Mindfulness and meditation are becoming increasingly accepted forms of relaxation very much on a par with yoga. But few people fully understand all the benefits they offer: after six months of practicing mindfulness, I am more positive, relaxed, grounded and resilient. I believe that exercising your brain through meditation will come to be seen as equally important as exercising physically.

I first heard about mindfulness on Radio 4. The programme talked about a study conducted on Cambridge students, showing how practising mindfulness can lead to increased attention and decreased stress and anxiety.

After six months of practicing mindfulness, I am more positive, relaxed, grounded and resilient

Feeling inspired, I signed up to the University’s mindfulness course, with weekly sessions of one and a half hours during either Michaelmas or Lent. The course allows you to class hop, attending whichever of the classes for that week that best suits your schedule. In Easter Term, they also offer sessions geared towards exam preparation, such as mindfulness for better sleep, staying calm and making productive decisions.

If you can’t wait until Michaelmas for the next round of courses to kick off, there are many other ways to start your mindfulness journey, from using apps like Headspace to joining mindfulness groups such as Mindfulness at the Union. There is also an ever-increasing range of books with meditation CDs; a personal favourite is Mindfulness, The Eight-Week Meditation Programme for a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

Mindfulness is all about learning to become grounded, aware and present. This is attained through a series of meditations that you can use to focus your attention and keep it where you intend it to be. Giving the brain something else to think about in this way helps to break cyclical thoughts that are often responsible for anxiety, low mood and lack of self-esteem.

The meditations are varied. Many of them direct your attention away from your mind and towards your physical body. The body-scan, for example, consists of focusing your attention on each area of your body in turn, starting from your toes and working up to your head. Many guides teach you methods to ground yourself in the present moment, for example by focussing on your breath or becoming aware of the surfaces that are supporting you – the feeling of your feet on the floor or the chair underneath you. Another method teaches you to focus on only your sense of hearing.


Mountain View

Self-care, your way

Just as there isn’t only one way of doing mindfulness, there isn’t only one reason for picking it up, etiher. The students I met on the course had come to mindfulness for a range of reasons. Most wanted to improve their studying experience by increasing attention and decreasing stress. But I know others who use mindfulness to help combat depression, or to replace other coping methods they had become dependent on, such as drugs or alcohol. I have also met some people who use mindfulness to help them sleep better or recover from neurological diseases.

Mindfulness is by far one of the most important things I have learnt at Cambridge. I will definitely continue my practice after I leave, and look forward to seeing how the mindfulness movement progresses.

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