Meditation for college students: a beginners’ guide

Illustration by Monique Rojas | The Signal

Imagine setting aside time each day to practice a habit that brings calmer emotions, greater mental clarity and better decision-making. Meditation makes a notable difference for students facing stressful situations throughout their days. Adopting a meditation routine is worth considering this semester.

This year has brought many stresses, especially for students adjusting to new routines and worrying about the future. Meditation can help to reduce stress and improve mental clarity during difficult situations.

Misconceptions prevent many from trying meditation. Many students hesitate because their schedules are too busy. Some people are intimidated because they think they need to “stop” their thoughts to see benefits. Others think meditation must be a spiritual practice.

Research and guidance can help new meditators understand why these stereotypes are false. Several benefits of meditation have been scientifically proven. An article from the National Institutes of Health cites research showing that regular meditation decreases blood pressure, reduces anxiety levels and lessens depression symptoms.

Assistant Dean of Students Ronald Mazique was first inspired to try meditation after hearing Jay-Z praise the benefits of visualization. Mazique has found great value in practicing meditation over the past 12 years.

“We rarely get a moment to just sit with our own thoughts and check in on where we are personally,” said Mazique. “I know that we’re dealing with a lot right now, as a world, so anything you can get in your arsenal to help you manage that is something you should look into.”

Oliver Moreno is a Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech and a leader of the GT Meditation Club. He started meditating regularly after facing unexpected health issues in 2015.

“[I spent] about 10 months having recurrent bouts of bronchitis, and I developed allergies,” Moreno said. “It was a bit confusing to me because I had never suffered from any health issues like that, but it prompted me to look for hobbies that were more gentle on the body … That’s what really pushed me to start being consistent with [meditation].”

Senior Arthur Tao has meditated since childhood and follows the Quan Yin Method. He says that meditation helps him with his studies.

“When I have no clue what I should do while I’m studying or thinking about the future of my career, I’ll do meditation first and then go back and reconsider,” Tao said.

The basics of meditation

Meditation aims to clear the mind and calm emotions by focusing on a specific focus without engaging with distractions. Each time a distraction arises, attention simply returns to the original focus of the meditation. 

New meditators should start by setting an intention for their practice. Then, they should decide what their point of focus will be during meditation. One could focus on a specific object, a particular thought or one’s own breath. During meditation, meditators aim their attention on the point of focus and return to it whenever distractions arise, such as nagging thoughts or outside noises.

When choosing a place to meditate, one should go somewhere relatively quiet and find a comfortable, upright sitting position. 

Beginner techniques

Focus on breathing

One of the simplest ways to meditate is by focusing on one’s breathing. Beginners can concentrate on each inhale and exhale to avoid distracting thoughts.

Heartfulness meditation

During heartfulness meditation, meditators focus on a symbolic “light” in their heart rather than their thoughts and worries. Moreno is an instructor and facilitator of heartfulness meditations at the GT Meditation Club.

“[It’s] about breaking the person away from thinking, visualizing and having a more active mental process and toward a more feeling, passive process,” Moreno said.

Focus on a specific thought

Those who find it difficult to quiet their minds should try to concentrate on specific thoughts or concepts during meditation. Using positive affirmations such as “I am whole” or expressions of gratitude such as “I am grateful for my friend” can help. Tao recommends that beginners identify one thing that they believe and focusing on it during their meditation.

Free resources

Meditation Mondays

Meditation Mondays are monthly virtual meditations facilitated by Mazique as part of the Office of the Dean of Students’ programming. Mazique started the program to meet with students and personally connect them to resources.

“We created it as an opportunity to continue to engage with students around issues that weren’t necessarily rooted in conduct or the need for assistance,” he said. “It was a way for us to take a more holistic approach to addressing the needs of students.”

Mind-Body Wellness Workshops

The Georgia State Counseling Center offers students a variety of opportunities to practice mindfulness and meditation each week. Their Mind-Body Wellness Workshops include feel-good meditations, moving meditations and one-hour mindfulness classes. All workshops are currently held virtually.

Sahajayoga Meditation Club

Postdoctoral student Sunitha Basodi is a Sahajayoga Meditation Club leader, a student organization at Georgia State that offers virtual meditation classes every weekday. The group practices Sahaja Yoga, a unique meditation method focused on awakening one’s inner energy and working toward self-realization.

Meditation apps

Moreno suggests trying the HeartsApp for those interested in heartfulness, and the Insight Timer app, which has basic meditations and a gentle timer for self-guided meditation. Mazique recommends the Headspace app and YouTube, which has hundreds of meditation videos covering nearly every technique.


Try meditation for a set number of days

Basodi said that hesitant students should treat meditation like an experiment at first. This way, beginners feel less pressure to “succeed” at meditation, and they can enjoy the process more.

“I did a three- or four-week course, and I saw that there was a difference between when I started and where I currently was at,” she said. “So, don’t be scared or pre-judgmental about what it’s going to be. Just try it as an experiment.”

Define a specific reason for meditating

Moreno suggests that new meditators should choose a specific purpose behind pursuing meditation. Having personal reasons to meditate helps people stay motivated and consistent with their practice.

“The more powerful and personal [the purpose is], the more it’ll be powerful in order to help us stay persistent with [meditation] during those very difficult times,” Moreno said.

Hour-long meditations aren’t mandatory

People are sometimes intimidated by meditation because they think short sessions don’t bring results. Mazique says that’s not true.

“I think there’s a misconception that you have to meditate for a long time like you have to sit in silence for hours and hours, and that’s not the case,” he said. “You can meditate for 30 seconds; you can meditate for 5 minutes, 10 minutes. Whatever you have time to do, you can do, and that’s something that you can learn.”

Be part of a community

Tao and Moreno both recommend that students join a meditation group to be held accountable and engaged in their practice.

“Find other people who [meditate] and work with each other,” Moreno said. “Share the practices, keep each other accountable [and] talk about it. That way, we have that positive reinforcement, and it doesn’t occur as this heavy chore or this difficult thing, but rather as something we really look forward to doing.”