Many studies have been done to determine how the practice of meditation affects both mind and body in humans. It has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, slow metabolism, and lower blood pressure. Studies have also begun to determine how meditation effects serious illness such as cancer and asthma, and whether the effects of meditation are physiologically genuine or just a function of mind over matter.
Meditation and Memory
Memory is the process by which we store information for subsequent retrieval. This is done through a variety of learned processes, like simple tricks we teach ourselves to remember things like names, locations, and instructions. Sometimes memories are retrieved easily and naturally, but as humans we've learned to train our brains to retrieve information through various games and tricks, like using anagrams and associative thinking.
Several studies have been done that show meditation has a positive effect on memory. One study demonstrated that middle school children who were taught to meditate had an increase in academic performance. Subsequent studies were done on adults and elderly persons who had similar results. Groups of test subjects, when trained in meditation, had increased memory retention and retrieval.
Meditation and College Students
College students experience stress more than some other groups of people, due to the pressure of exams and grades, and trying to balance work and social lives. Could meditation help alleviate some of this stress and actually improve their cognitive ability? If test anxiety was lessened, would this translate into higher test scores?
Fifty-six undergrads at Hampton University participated in a study. Half of the students were trained in meditation and the other half was not. Each group met twice a week for “study groups”. The meditation group was taught a basic meditation technique that involved natural breathing, relaxation, and focus techniques. This was done for ten minutes at the beginning of each study group session.
The results showed that while all of the participants, in both groups, had similar GPA’s in the fall semester, by the spring semester, after having taken part in this experiment, there was a significant increase in the GPA scores of the students who meditated.
Focus of Attention
When meditating, we learn to focus our attention on one thing, whether it’s our breath, a mantra or a visual symbol. When we meditate on a regular basis, we get really good at focusing our attention on that one thing and tuning everything else out.
That singular focus trains our brain. When students meditate and learn to focus better, that seems to carry over to the classroom. They are able to focus better during lectures, when they are reading and studying, and when memorizing data. It also helps them to retrieve that information later on during exams and reports.
If schools, both public and private, want to improve student achievement at all grade levels, it would be a good idea to implement some sort of meditation practice. Whether it’s an optional course for college students, or part of the “morning meeting” time with K-12 students, it certainly couldn't hurt and if studies continue to provide proof, it will only benefit them academically and spiritually. It’s a holistic approach to education that should be examined further.
Catherine King is a writer, singer-songwriter, wife, and mother of three teenage boys living on Cape Cod. She is currently studying Eco-psychology as well as metaphysics and enjoys being outdoors as much as possible. Catherine has degrees from Berklee College of Music and Suffolk University.