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That big exam is coming up. Can meditation help?

Yes, it can!

In fact, along with getting good sleep and some exercise, it’s about one of the most valuable things you can do to help at this time in your life.

Let’s clarify one point – it won’t replace doing the actual work of study and preparation. It’s not a magical cure that will miraculously get you through with no effort. What it can do is help you to better use your time and energy, so what effort you do put in is better utilised.

Let’s explore four ways that meditation can help:

Tip #1 – build in regular breaks – enhance them with short Spot Meditations

There’s a growing body of research (see links below) showing that our mind is good at focusing for a period of time (anything from an hour to 1.5 hours) and then it’s beneficial to have a short break of some form – anything up to 15 minutes after a longer study stint.

With any break, try to get physically moving. Get up, do some stretches, maybe have a short walk.

To turbo charge your break, add in some Spot Meditations. These are short mindfulness exercises, anything from 30 seconds to a minute or two. For best results, try some physical movement first and then a short Spot Meditation.

Here’s one you can do right now as you are reading this article:

  • Just for a few moments, focus on your sense of touch.
  • Feel the contact of your feet on the floor or your shoes on the ground.
  • Now notice the contact of your legs on the chair or cushion. Can you let your muscles soften a little – maybe letting your feet sink a little further into the ground. Stop here for a moment, enjoying the feeling of letting go.
  • Can you also feel the contact of your backside, back and shoulders against the chair? If you can, soften your belly and shoulders a little. Can you sink further into the chair? Again, have a short pause here.
  • And now notice the contact of your arms against the sides of your body, and maybe the contact of your hands on your phone, tablet or laptop.
  • Can you feel your whole body letting go for a few moments? Enjoy the feeling of sinking and letting go.

If you can, practise that exercise after a short walk. Do you feel more refreshed?

You can learn more useful Spot Meditations in Lifeflow’s Learn to Meditate course.

Find out more about having breaks with these links:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/jobs/take-breaks-regularly-to-stay-on-schedule-workstation.html?emc=eta1

https://www.onlineschools.org/science-of-study-breaks/

Tip #2 – Study relies on focused effort. Meditation is about developing better focus. Win win!

Any kind of study will require you to focus and direct your mind. How is this best done?

To focus effectively, there are a few minimum steps. It helps if your body is relaxed, not holding unnecessary tension. You need a decision to actually do the study, to set aside the time and energy to engage in it. But you’ll also find that there are periods when your mind wanders off, where it’s hard to get going. This is normal, everyone hits it to some degree.

This is where meditation comes into its own. In any meditation we train our students to notice when their mind is wandering, and gently bring it back to the exercise at hand. Over time, this helps enormously to develop better concentration. Catching little moments of wandering gradually builds better and better concentration.

The more you practise meditation, the more you will learn to calm and focus your mind at will.

It’s this better concentration that will help power you through study.

You can read more about the actual meditation technique in Life in Balance.

Tip #3 – Riding the tiger

Have you noticed the build-up of energy (or discomfort) that happens a little before any deadline, exam or time when you have to present in public? It’s usually in the stomach – a feeling of butterflies, churning, or even a slight nausea?

Nothing has gone wrong. It’s your subconscious mind releasing the body’s energy reserves (or more correctly, releasing cortisol to provide a quick energy release).

How it feels can be anything from mildly to strongly uncomfortable.

This is your body releasing its energy reserves. It’s essential for you to be at peak performance during an exam.

It’s like riding a tiger. You’re not in control.

But, you can learn to ride more effectively. Again, this is where the Spot Meditations come in.

When your body is releasing this much energy, it’s easy for your thinking to spin out of control. Catastrophizing!

Your body is releasing a lot of energy, but nowhere for it to go. When you feel this happening, bring your attention back to your body. Use a Spot Meditation, any Spot Meditation. Something that can help to anchor your mind back to the present moment. You may have to practise it often, probably more than you expect. But, the benefit is learning to hold that energy. Learning to ride the tiger.

Tip #4 – use a Spot Meditation if you lose your cool in the exam

So, you’ve done the study. You’ve been riding the tiger before the exam. But during the exam you lose your cool. Concentration splinters. Panic?

This is where I really learnt the power of meditation. Early into one exam (which was do or die for this particular subject) I lost my cool. I could feel the panic set in. What to do? What happened is that I used the Spot Meditation earlier in the example, and then a few moments of quiet breathing. Stop, let everything go. Then restart.

When you lose your cool, the problem is the not the questions that you can’t answer. The problem is your emotional state. Once tripped into a panic state, your ability for rational thinking massively drops. Think fight or flight response. Far better to drop everything for a minute, focus on a Spot Meditation, then come back to sorting out what you can effectively do.

And the result, in my situation I found that little bit of time out gave my mind the space to settle. I realised one question had to be left for now, but I could do others. Later I came back to the same question and breezed through it.

How to put all of this together?

Tip #1 – build in regular breaks – enhance them with short Spot Meditations

Tip #2 – Study relies on focused effort. Meditation is about developing better focus. Use them together.

Tip #3 – Riding the tiger – the surge of energy before an exam is your friend

Tip #4 – use a Spot Meditation if you lose your cool in the exam

You can learn much more about Spot Meditations and how to develop deep and effective focus in our Learn to Meditate course.

One final tip – practice all of this well before exam time starts!

– John