Managing Mosaic Editor
Editor’s Note: While meditation has many health benefits, it should be practiced as a supplement and not a replacement for treatment.
For those who are unaware, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This time may be used to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness or mobilize efforts in support of mental health. For me, it is to practice a sense of calm, peace and balance for my own mental health. Meditation is especially beneficial for reducing stress, and studies show it can also reduce depression and anxiety and help people manage chronic pain.
To honor this month, I decided to do meditation for ten minutes every day for one (work) week to see how my mental health would improve.
I also decided, since technology is so prominent, that I would try to use two different types of meditation apps to see if I felt any difference using an app rather than going with the more “traditional” route of meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is what I have researched as one of the best beginner forms of meditation. It is the practice of intentionally focusing on the present moment, accepting and paying attention to the sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise without judgement. To perform this type of meditation, you sit up straight with an unsupported back and focus on your breathing while also being aware of what’s going on around you. You don’t add to what is going on, you simply remain aware of it; if you find yourself getting distracted, then you bring your focus back onto your breath.
Pros: I physically felt the benefits after the session. Throughout a normal day, I tend to clench my jaw and my limbs shake involuntarily due to my anxiety. Taking note of my breath and body made me consciously aware of my anxiety and helped me to slow down, take a deep breath and release the tension I’ve held in.
Cons: Since this was my first time meditating, it was very hard to focus. I found myself constantly thinking about homework, classes and noises rather than focusing on meditation. Even though I did feel the benefits right away, I was so calm that it kind of felt uncomfortable.
Headspace was the first app I decided to try. It is not entirely free but consists of ten guided meditation sessions (ten minutes each) that teach you the basics of meditation, and after the ten free sessions you have to pay a monthly fee if you wish to continue with the app. Each month separately is $12.95, a year is $5.83/month ($69.99 billed annually) and forever is a one time purchase of $399.99. I went for the free, seven-day trial.
Pros: The first, basic ten minute session was amazing. The instructor made the environment calm, relaxed and enjoyable. After the session was done I did not feel uncomfortable like I did the day before, I just felt “zen.” I felt no stress, no discomfort and my mind was no longer wandering a mile a minute. I felt completely at peace.
Cons: The price. It is unfortunate that you have to either pay a monthly subscription or hundreds of dollars to be able to use the app forever. Because of the price, I don’t know if I will purchase a subscription with the app, but after this week I will definitely be using my nine other free sessions.
Zen meditation, also called “Zazen,” is a kind of Buddhist meditation. It is similar to mindfulness meditation in practice but more ritualistic and many technical requirements. To summarize, you are to be seated with good posture, your mouth is closed and your eyes are lowered staring at the ground in front of you. To do this, all you have to do is count every time you inhale (so your first inhale would be one) and continue this until you get to ten. Then you count backwards, and continue this pattern for the whole meditation session.
Pros: Focusing on the breath really helped keep my mind at rest, which made the session much more enjoyable than Monday’s.
Cons: Some of the steps of the meditation were difflicult for me. Keeping my eyes open made it hard for me to focus so at the halfway mark I closed them. Also, I did not feel as relaxed as I did with the guided meditation on Tuesday. My mind and body felt at rest, but it was not the same “completely at peace” feeling I was left with after the guided meditation session.
My second and final app of the week was the Healthy Minds Program. Unlike Headspace, this app is completely free and there are many more meditation options. For example, you can choose meditation that focuses on training your mind through awareness, connection, insight and more.
Pros: It’s free! As a college student, hearing “free” is music to my ears, so this guided meditation app being free is definitely a benefit. Another positive is the fact that there are so many options for all different goals.
Cons: While my first session was good, I used the app again and it tends to freeze when I launch it and when it works, it crashes often. There is nothing wrong with the content of the app, but other users have had this program too, according to reviews.
My last meditation session of the week was “Vipassana” meditation, which focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body. It is a much more complex form of meditation than the prior ones I tried. You have to first focus on your breath, then become aware of your sensations without letting them distract you and finally focus on an object. The object is usually a body part, so for example, you concentrate on the abdomen and how it expands and then relaxes with each breath. You focus on how all of the senses affect that object, and while you are doing this, you are not letting yourself get distracted by any background noises.
Pros: I chose to focus on my chest. Having this concentration helped me stay on task with the meditation, but it wasn’t too distracting. I was still able to have a free mind even though I was focusing on my chest and how my breathing affected it.
Cons: I prefer guided meditation rather than doing it on my own. Still, I know that if I’m ever in a situation where I can’t have that guided meditation, I will surely use this form.
Overall, I really enjoyed this week. Something I realized is that meditation is extremely necessary, especially for the college student. Some days I felt like skipping my sessions because I was extremely busy, but I forced myself to do them, and after the meditation I felt so much better. What I love about meditation is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time doing it for it to be beneficial. I did meditation for just ten minutes every day, and I was immediately able to feel the benefits, like stress reduction, increased emotional awareness and improved sleep, for most of the meditations.
If there’s anything else I could take away from this week, it would be to focus more on my mental health. While meditation takes a while to work and should not substitute for other mental health treatments, being kind to your mind is the best thing you can do.