Can meditating help you study?

Meditation helps people focus their attention and sustain it – even during the most boring of tasks

The idea that meditation can improve your mental and physical health has been around in the East for thousands of years. In the West, it dates back to around 1968, when The Beatles headed off to India to search of inner peace with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

While its advocates have long claimed mediation can achieve extraordinary things, it is only recently that science has begun to investigate these claims. Back in 2010, a study looked into whether meditation improved brain function. The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, confirmed that meditation helps people focus their attention and sustain it – even during the most boring of tasks.

Another study undertaken at the University of North Carolina around the same time found that after just four days of meditation training, students improved their performance on tests of cognitive skill and did better on information-processing tasks that involved deadline stress.

So the scientific verdict seems to be in: meditation helps people concentrate and remain calm and collected. So how can you learn how to do it?

From a book

Meditation can be very straightforward. Beginners usually don't have to do anything more than sit still, close their eyes and avoid thinking (this is usually achieved by counting your in and out breaths). There are many books, apps, CDs and DVDs available that provide all the information you need to start meditating.

From a teacher

Many people seek out an experienced practitioner to teach them meditation. Historically, meditation has been part of a religious lifestyle and many groups offering "free" meditation classes use them to try to recruit new members. There's nothing necessarily sinister about that, but it is something to be aware of. It is also possible to learn non-religious meditation techniques from organisations such as Openground.

As anyone who tries it soon discovers, meditation might look easy but requires a lot of self-discipline and perseverance. However, those who manage to do so usually find the end results are well worth the effort.