In a school like Westminster where students rush from AP classes to varsity practices to
heaps of homework, it is often a non-starter to ask students to leave their work alone for ten
minutes during a break. Many students go so far as to describe feelings of anxiety during their
study breaks because they know that they could be doing something more “productive” with
their time. With this in mind, it is understandable that many students refuse to utilize the few
breaks they actually take to do some deep breathing or mindfulness. While this hesitation is
legitimate considering the academic and athletic standards of Westminster, it is also essential for
students to understand that their brains need blocks of time to decompress and re-center in times
of stress in order to guarantee more sustainable long-term success.
In its simplest definition, mindfulness is a state of mind where one focuses on the present
moment in time and seeks to forget the past and future. Mindfulness can come in many forms,
the most popular including deep breathing, breath awareness, body scans, and meditation. Deep
breathing and breath awareness are two of the easiest to learn for beginners. One simple form of
deep breathing involves breathing in for eleven seconds and blowing the breath out of the mouth
for seven seconds. Body scans are a bit more intensive than breathing techniques, as they involve
laying down, focusing on each part of the body individually until that part relaxes, then moving
on to the next part of the body. Body scans are useful for physically releasing tension that has
spread to the body from the mind. Meditation is the most intensive sect of mindfulness, often
needing quiet and comfort in one’s surroundings to fully relax.
In terms of why ten minutes of mindfulness is truly a productive use of time, mindfulness
activates the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus in the brain. These three
activations help regulate strong emotions such as fear and are also critical for short-term memory
retention. Subjects in experiments often perform better on tests after practicing mindfulness than
their counterparts who did not attempt mindfulness. The increased memory, decreased release of
the stress hormone, and lessened “flight” reaction that comes with mindfulness is a valuable
asset to students with limited time to recall information in a test. Additionally, mindfulness has
been shown to decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, which are all signs of
mental stress spreading to the physical body, in students whose stress levels elevate in stressful
Many facets of mindfulness can be done anytime, anywhere. Because mindfulness is a
free-flowing practice of personal mental awareness built around breathing techniques, nobody
around you can see when you are practicing mindfulness. You could be studying in the middle
floor library surrounded by peers and easily utilize mindfulness strategies to calm down without
a peer even raising an eyebrow. You could be in the middle of a conversation with a friend and
practice breathing techniques that they could never notice. Mindfulness offers participants a
method of quiet and undetectable stress-relief at all times of the day.
Mindfulness is also highly personal and therefore highly customizable. If you try one
method of mindfulness that does not seem to relieve your stress, you can try something else and
experience a completely different result. This also helps keep mindfulness from being
monotonous. The diversity of mindfulness techniques is important because it is so personal. A
body scan might make one person feel anxious while completely calming another. It is also
relatively easy to learn new forms of mindfulness that might keep your mind from wandering
while practicing it. Mindfulness can easily be paired with many mundane activities such as
listening to music or even eating, so it is also easy to integrate into a daily routine.
On top of all of this, students who wish for a more private place to sit and practice
meditation are always welcome in the Well, the school’s counseling hub. If students request help
from a counselor, counselors Meredith Miller, Dena Scott, and Sydney Wasdin are constantly
accessible to students. It is extremely rare to walk into the Well and find none of them available
to chat about stress or help with anything else a student might need. On the flip side, students
who feel more comfortable practicing mindfulness alone or who feel they do not need assistance
with the process still have the opportunity to sit in the Well and practice mindfulness undisturbed
and without the assistance of a counselor.
For a student who wishes to try guided mindfulness but does not feel comfortable enough
to ask a counselor for assistance with the process, there is a plethora of applications available on
mobile phones that can walk a student through the practice of mindfulness. One of the most
extensive, free, and easy to use applications is called Calm. Calm offers a breathing metronome,
guided body scans, and guided meditations for its users. With this method, mindfulness can be as
simple as just putting in headphones and taking deep breaths.
Keeping the above mindfulness strategies, resources, and scientifically proven benefits in
mind, students can push through anything that comes their way with a more centered mindset.
With a few deep breaths, students can bolster their own brainpower and give themselves a
mindset advantage in an upcoming assessment or challenge. Next time you find yourself
studying at midnight, panicking during a test, or simply feeling overwhelmed in class, you
should strongly consider mindfulness as your strategy for calming down and preparing yourself
for what lies ahead.