Why I teach meditation to college writing students

tibetan singing bowlFor my day job, I teach writing to college freshmen. I actually love it. I love teaching students to engage with their own writing, maybe even start to like it. Sometimes I’ve started class with grammar exercises, other times with journaling activities. This semester, I’ve been starting class with three minutes of meditation.

At first, I verbally guided them through the three minutes, coaching students on how to sit, how to breathe, how to be mindful. Now, halfway through the semester, we’re sitting the full three minutes in silence, quietly centering ourselves as class begins.

These three minutes usually turn into five after I’ve set-up the meditation, jabbered on about why intentional stillness is important. I could see them as a waste of class time, but they are in fact the most important five minutes of the day.

My students are college freshmen. They recently left home, probably for the first time. They are adjusting to a new style of school, new environment, new people. They are still in their teens, with all the accompanying physical changes, growth spurts, hormonal imbalances. At the same time, they are adults, learning how to balance schedules and the pressure of planning a career, or at least a major.

College freshmen need a little stillness.

(So does their new momma instructor–let’s be honest, now.)

Meditation has been psychologically and scientifically proven to lower the effects of stress and anxiety in the body and mind–see Yoga for Depression, How God Changes Your Brain, and the Yoga Ed. program for a primer in this research.

It’s the ideal practice for college students, and they probably won’t try it on their own unless they’ve felt the effects of the practice elsewhere. So I’m trying to give them those effects.

Three minutes isn’t a lot of time. It’s not a lot of time to take from class content. It’s not a lot of time to meditate, either. It’s a pause, really. But it’s the pause I want them to remember.

When they’re lonely in their dorm room, I hope they pause and breathe. When they’re stressed before a test, I hope they pause. When they’re panicked about a relationship, I hope they pause. When they’re overwhelmed with all-the-stuff-they-have-to-do-before-finals, I hope they pause.

The pause can pull them out. It can stop the fight-or-flight response to stress and help them climb out of the amygdala and back into the rational-thinking part of the brain.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some of their mid-semester thoughts about our meditation practice:

“I was a little iffy about the meditation but I love opening class with it now. It helps calm me, and, seeing as this is the first class of my day, it starts my day off well. The meditations allow me to look forward to the class. My anxiety is really bad so this helps calm me down.”

“They help me change my mind set from what’s important in life to what’s important for class therefore making me more focused. I don’t meditate on my own but I wish there was a meditation before all my classes.”

“My grandma is a yoga instructor. My whole life she has showed me different meditation techniques. However, I never really saw the benefits of it or took it too seriously. I’ve learned how helpful meditation can be when done correctly.”

“I thought it would be a waste of time. Now, I like the meditation. It gives me time to be mindful of my state of being and allows me to breathe before starting my day.”

“Starting my day”–our class is at 11:00 a.m. Most of them are just starting their day with this class (lucky ducks). Pausing is a good way to start.

These comments represent the general class consensus about our meditation practice. In fact, all but one student appear to really appreciate it.

Here’s the one student who doesn’t: “Meditation really isn’t for me. I like the quiet but I have a hard time turning my brain off. The most relaxing thing for me is when my life is in order and I feel like meditation is just taking a pause without accomplishing anything concrete.”

This comment isn’t negative: it’s a challenge. This is the student I’m trying to reach with the practice. Not accomplishing anything concrete is the point. The point is to be able to breathe, to be, and to enjoy life–even when it’s not all in order.

Let’s be frank: life usually isn’t in order.

Breathe anyway.


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