8 Benefits of Following a Zen Lifestyle in School

Increased Academic Success

Studies have shown that students who meditate or have designated quiet time have better academic performance.

Improved Mental Health

The combination of greater physical health, more confidence and increased empathy that students get from engaging in Zen practices can lead to better mental health overall.

Possible Decreased Substance Abuse and Addiction

Zen living often focuses on self-care, which increases feelings of self-worth for some students and may lead to less dependency on or compulsion toward addictive substances.

Increased Confidence

Good physical and mental health, along with engaging in mindful practices such as meditation, can lead to greater self-appreciation.

Better Sleep

Eating right, moving your body with purpose and having the ability to calm and center yourself in healthy ways all lead to a better night’s sleep.

Greater Efficiency

Students who maintain a Zen lifestyle have the benefit of increased energy and more self-assuredness to help them plow through assignments and tasks quickly and efficiently.

Improved Physical Health

Maybe it’s obvious the eating well and exercising improve physical health, but stress, anxiety and depression can have negative physical effects. Meditative and mind-body practices can help students reduce negative emotions and their physical effects.

Heightened Focus
in Class

Healthy, well-rested students are more alert in class, which leads to a whole chain of positive events, like increased confidence, better grades and less stress.

TRANSCEND: Meditation

Meditation is about connecting with the individual self. It allows room for personalization, and there can be crossover between different types of meditative practices depending on which methods best suit the individual. Understanding the general meditative practices discussed below can help students figure out which specific methods of meditation suit their needs.

Concentration

Concentration is at the core of all types of meditation. Practicing concentration meditation helps students tune out distractions–like that person eating potato chips during an exam–and strengthens their meditation skills across all categories.

Reflective

Reflective meditation requires one to choose a question or topic and think deeply, or reflect, on it. Practicing this type of meditation will help students train their minds not to wander and to think beyond the surface level of any topic. Students who have a hard time plowing through assignments or those who have to write a lot of analytic, explicative or creative papers may want to make reflective meditation a regular habit.

Heart-centered

Heart-centered meditation can be practiced regularly, but students may find this form of spiritual wellness particularly helpful in specific circumstances, especially when experiencing great deals of stress, sadness or fear. Heart-centered meditation involves being in a quiet place and sitting upright, focusing on breathing and opening the heart. This method can also be done between two people.

Creative Meditation

Creative meditation allows students to foster certain qualities and characteristics they value by speaking, acting and thinking as if they actually have these characteristics at their fullest strength. It’s essentially the “fake it ‘til you make it” of meditation. Say you were reserved and lacked confidence in high school. Under this practice of meditation, you can enter college acting as though you’ve been confident your whole life, and eventually you will gain real confidence.

Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation can be practiced at any time, affects many facets of life and is excellent to try out in college when students get to experience more independence and freedom of choice. Mindful meditation is simply the act of paying attention and thinking deeply beyond the immediate effects of one’s thoughts and actions. Learn more about mindful movement and mindful eating, two common types of mindful meditation, later on in this guide.

Students can look into these meditation techniques to find ones that fall under the categories above:

  • Transcendental
    Transcendental

    Transcendental Meditation (TM) was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Practitioners meditate 20 minutes twice a day to achieve stress and anxiety relief and mental clarity.

  • Zen
    Zen

    Zazen (seated meditation) is a Zen meditative practice. Practitioners observe mind and breath, and correct posture is important.

  • Primordial Sound
    Primordial Sound

    PSM does not force the mind to be quiet. Practitioners use a sound or vibration mantra to enter a deeper level of awareness.

  • Vipassana
    Vipassana

    This ancient meditation technique uses mindful breathing and body sensation awareness to gain insight and enlightenment.

  • Chakra
    Chakra

    Practitioners concentrate on the various chakra points in their bodies to heal corresponding mental and physical distress and discomfort.

  • Metta
    Metta

    Metta uses recitation of specific words or phrases to invoke warmth and loving-kindness first to oneself, then to others.

  • Yoga Nidra
    Yoga Nidra

    Practitioners reach a conscious state between waking and sleeping to invoke awareness of the inner world. It’s a deep state of relaxation achieved without being asleep.

  • Kundalini
    Kundalini

    Practitioners use mantras and breath (pranayam) patterns to clear the mind. The ultimate goal of this meditation is the awakening of the kundalini (life force) state.

  • Tonglen
    Tonglen

    The purpose of Tonglen is to take suffering in with the breath (acceptance), and release compassion and relief with the out-breath. The Dalai Lama is said to practice Tonglen.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give students a jumping-off point for their meditation practices. Students may want to try a few different meditation techniques and experiment with tools like mantras, mudras, guided meditations, asana poses, breathing techniques and sound to find the method that best fosters their individual spiritual wellness.

Where to Meditate

Finding a good place to meditate while in school can be daunting, especially for students who live in loud buildings or with roommates or family. However, doing some exploring on and off campus is sure to turn up a handful of good places to meditate. Check out the following campus spots for some peace and quiet:

  • School recreation centers often have community rooms that people can use for any number of activities, including meditation.

  • Some schools even have rooms dedicated solely to meditation and quiet relaxation.

  • Students whose schools aren’t so explicitly accommodating can seek out a corner of a designated quiet zone in their school’s library or study areas.

  • Most schools also have at least one grassy area where students who don’t mind public meditation can get in touch with nature while having an introspective moment.

  • With the variety of settings and locations within school campuses, students can afford to experiment with different meditation spots. Even late-night laundry sessions, with the rumbling noise, warmth and built-in timer, can provide the ideal ingredients for meditation.

Resources, Apps & Tools for Meditation & Zen Techniques at School
On Campus
Campus meditation rooms
Some schools have designated quiet areas just for students to meditate. The soothing atmosphere and comfy seating make these places ideal.
Meditation and mind-body clubs
Student can find groups and clubs for people who are interested in meditating together or learning new meditation techniques.
Apps
Buddhify
This mindfulness app supplies guided meditations that users can do whenever and wherever it’s convenient.
Calm
Calm provides mindful meditation exercises that can be done in multi-day series that help with focus, anxiety relief, stress management and more.
Headspace
With its 10-minute per day meditation exercises, Headspace is a great tool for meditation beginners.
Omvana
Omvana combines sound tracks, music and guided meditation sessions to give users a customizable meditation experience.
Online
Fragrant Heart
Fragrant Heart provides free audio meditations for specific people and circumstances. For instance, there are series of meditations for children, healing, yoga and relaxation.
Tara Brach
This site contains tons of guided meditation audios that are updated regularly, so users don’t have to worry about wearing tired of their same routines.
The Meditation Podcast
This podcast offers guided meditations paired with binaural beats, which are thought to affect brain waves and promote relaxation.

MOVE WITH PURPOSE: Practice Yoga and Mindful Movement

When students think of mind-body exercise, they may initially think of more traditionally “Zen” activities like yoga, tai chi or qi gong, but activities like dancing, Pilates and various forms of martial arts can be good alternative forms of mind-body exercise. All of these activities involve mental discipline and connecting the mind with the body through deliberate thought and motion.

Students who engage in mindful movement activities can see a multitude of benefits, including increased strength and energy, better posture, reduced stress and improved attentiveness, self-confidence, self-awareness and self-care habits. Mind-body exercises also provide ways to build and strengthen relationships with others and add structure to an often hectic and fluid college life.

There are benefits to attending yoga classes, however, and many students may prefer the structure and social nature of face-to-face yoga classes. Students who take yoga classes in person get to ask questions, build community and have a trained instructor make sure they are doing movements correctly and not setting themselves up for injury. Furthermore, classes assure that students have a quiet space and designated time to practice.

Many colleges offer yoga classes for credit, and high school students whose schools don’t offer yoga can ask about getting their PE requirements fulfilled by taking yoga classes at a nearby studio or college. Students who don’t necessarily want to pay tuition prices to get the benefits of yoga need not worry; many colleges offer free yoga classes through their rec centers or have student-run yoga clubs. Those who need a break from on-campus activities can look for yoga studios in their area. Many studios are donation-based, so students with tight budgets can still make it work.

Resources, Apps & Tools for Mindful Moving
On Campus
The campus rec center
Campus rec centers often have yoga rooms and free or cheap yoga classes for students.
Yoga classes
If students can’t find free options or want a little more guidance, they can look into taking yoga classes through their school’s physical education department.
Apps
Daily Yoga
Students can quickly and easily access different yoga routines every day, complete with videos and music. The app also allows users to track and share their progress.
Yoga Wake Up
This app can help students get out of bed and get their days started right. The app give quick routines that can be done in bed to help users go from sleepy to ready for class.
Tai Chi Temple
Tai Chi focuses very much on the act of feeling, so having an app that merely tells you what to do can seem counterintuitive. This app, however, uses motion sensor technology to help students learn tai chi.
Online
Beginners Tai Chi
This website is a comprehensive guide on tai chi and provides information on the origins, benefits and styles of tai chi along with learning tips.
Do Yoga With Me
Do Yoga With Me provides tons of instructional videos for yoga students of all levels.
Yome
Yome has videos and articles to help students practice yoga and learn about different poses and routines for specific issues.

EAT MINDFULLY: Clean Food, Enjoyed

Like mindful movement, mindful eating can have perks beyond the physical. Along with potential benefits like fewer sick days, higher energy levels, clearer skin and better overall health, eating mindfully can connect students with their bodies as well as their environments.

By thinking beyond the simple act of putting food into one’s body and instead considering and understanding the implications of those food choices on a global level, students can become aware of their position and impact in their local and global communities. This global awareness is matched by increased self-awareness. With a strong understanding of the self comes increased confidence, greater empathy and better stress management skills.

Students looking for a healthy boost for their bodies and minds can check out some of these eating practices to see which best suit their lifestyles. Along with a rundown on different eating methods, students will find tips for eating mindfully on a budget and using their meal plans and campus resources to their advantage.

Clean Eating

What is it?

Eating foods in their natural state, depending on your interpretation of what constitutes a natural state. Many clean eaters eat things like breads, cooked meats and pasteurized milks and juices, even though at their purest, these foods are grain, animal and fruit, respectively. A main focus of eating clean is to acknowledge and learn about the origins of the food they eat.

Is clean eating affordable and practical for college students?

While eating foods in their natural state can be more expensive that the two tacos for a dollar meal deal at the fast food restaurant down the street, compared to a diet of processed food, clean eating can be pretty cheap. One good thing about clean eating is that, because it’s so open to interpretation, students can start with a few changes and graduate to more advanced clean eating practices.

Why do students choose this way of eating?

It’s a way of eating healthy and cutting back on refined grains and sugars without giving up entire food groups or counting calories. By eating fewer processed foods, students can take in more nutrients and have higher energy levels.

How can students adjust their cafeteria meal plan and prepare for snack cravings while studying in the library, at friend’s dorms, etc.?

Clean eating students may have a hard time figuring out which dining hall foods they can eat, especially if the ingredients aren’t listed. School is already stressful enough, so clean eaters might want to cut themselves some slack in the dining hall and make educated guesses about their hot meals. Things like vegetable stir fry, where all the ingredients are more or less visible, for instance, or noodle-less soups are probably pretty safe. Raw fruits and vegetables are always a good standby, so clean eating students should stock up on those when they stop by the dining hall.

Tips for clean eating at school

  • Research blogs and social media accounts for tips and tricks from clean eating gurus.

  • If this is a totally new way of eating, you may want to start clean eating in phases and cut out certain foods as you learn more about them and find substitutes that work for your lifestyle, given your budget and access to natural foods stores.

  • If you’re already fairly health-conscious, you may feel comfortable jumping into clean eating wholeheartedly and may even consider giving a raw diet a try.

  • If you want to go all the way with clean eating, you may need to brush up on your cooking skills and get used to carefully reading ingredients. Cooking can be tricky, especially for those who live in dorms with a small or nonexistent kitchen.

  • Ditch the microwave and invest in small appliances like a blender and a slow cooker instead.

  • Go to farmers’ markets, where you can often speak to and develop relationships with the people providing the food.

  • Gather your clean foods and prepare a week’s worth of snacks and meals at a time to stay on track and not feel overwhelmed by the no-food-no-time tragedy that befalls many college students.

  • Students socialize and build relationships around food. By hosting dinner parties or potlucks rather than going out to eat with friends, clean eating students don’t have to miss out on the fun.

Vegan and Vegetarian

What is it?

A vegetarian diet eschews meat, poultry and fish, while a vegan diet excludes any animal product, including dairy and honey.

Is a vegetarian or vegan diet affordable and practical for college students?

These diets are tricky, but with some advance thought and research, they can be affordable and easy to maintain. Vegans and vegetarians alike should look out for sales at their grocery store of choice, but this is particularly important for vegans who need specialty ingredients to veganize their favorite non-vegan recipes. Beans are a very cheap food item and a staple of vegetarian and vegan diets. Students will find that splurging on items like nutritional yeast and arrowroot powder is not really that big of an expense when considering the money saved from ditching meat and dairy.

Why do students choose this way of eating?

Along with dietary benefits, veganism and vegetarianism have ethical and environmental benefits that may appeal to students. For instance, meatless diets are very water-wise and work to reduce the demand for factory farms. Because environmental and ethical issues are cornerstones of these eating practices, vegans and vegetarians may find that mindful aspect of eating mindfully can happen fairly quickly and easily, becoming a natural and constant practice that leads to increased mindfulness in other aspects of life.

How can students adjust their cafeteria meal plan and prepare for snack cravings while studying in the library, at friend’s dorms, etc.?

One plus of veganism and vegetarianism is how easy it is to maintain these practices while using a meal plan. Many schools have Meatless Mondays, where everything in the dining hall is vegetarian-friendly. Even when this is not the case, vegan and vegetarian students can also take advantage of burritos, veggie burgers, pizza (vegetarians), peanut butter cookies (vegetarians), sandwiches, salads and whatever ever else the cafe offers that doesn’t have meat or, for vegans, dairy and eggs. When not visiting the dining hall, vegans and vegetarians can prepare snacks and meals at home.

Tips for vegetarian and vegan eating at school

  • Finding recipes online can be helpful, but a good cookbook is hard to beat, especially since many of the same ingredients and tools will be used from recipe to recipe.

  • When going out with friends, try various ethnic restaurants. Ethiopian, Mediterranean, Indian, Thai and Japanese restaurants are often inexpensive and offer tons of delicious options for vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike.

  • Follow vegan and vegetarian social media accounts for recipes, ideas, photos and descriptions of meals and snacks.

Raw Food Diet

What is it?

A diet consisting of unprocessed and uncooked organic foods.

Is a raw food diet affordable and practical for college students?

Raw food can be expensive and time consuming to prepare on your own. It could be very tricky to pull off a raw food diet for students living in the dorms, and most cafeteria food plans don’t offer too many raw choices. Students who are thinking about going raw may find that many recipes call for expensive equipment, like food processors and special cutting tools, which can be discouraging for those on a tight budget. However, by doing some research, either by compiling recipes and learning which tools are used most often or by seeing what tools other raw foodists have found to be suitable, budget-friendly substitutes, students can begin their raw food diet without too much financial stress.

Why do students choose this way of eating?

Raw food adherents believe that cooking and processing food leeches important vitamins and minerals. For them, this is food in its purest form.

How can students adjust their cafeteria meal plan and prepare for snack cravings while studying in the library, at friend’s dorms, etc.?

Raw students who want to take advantage of a meal plan might have a bit of a challenge finding a wide variety of foods to eat, but fruits, veggies and salad bars are usually staples at campus dining halls. Students can take comfort in knowing that even if they slip up now and again and get a cooked meal from the school cafe, a partially raw diet still offers tons of benefits. Whether they can go for it one-hundred percent or just some of the time, students can always benefit from eating more raw fruits and veggies. Coincidentally, raw fruits and veggies along with nuts and smoothies make excellent, easy study snacks.

Tips for raw food eating at school

  • If you practice a raw food diet, you can expect to eat a lot of foods with short shelf-lives. Plan meals a week at a time to avoid wasting unused ingredients.

  • By choosing recipes that contain similar ingredients, especially ones that only seem to come in large quantities, students can reduce both food and money waste.

  • Raw foodists can see the same benefits as vegans from having a good recipe book on hand.

  • Get smoothies with friends before class or a study session, or try out a nearby sushi restaurant that has good sashimi.

Paleo Diet

What is it?

Eating based on the way ancient humans ate. Basically, adherents eat the way cavemen ate, meaning an abundance of meat, fish, nuts and seeds, certain fats, and fruits and vegetables. Eggs are ok, but wheat, dairy, grains, potatoes and legumes are not.

Is a paleo diet affordable and practical for college students?

While cooking at home may end up costing a bit more, paleo students who plan their meals in advance can save money by buying bulk ingredients and taking advantage of supermarket sales. Foods often go on sale when they’re just about to turn but still have a lot of life left in them. Paleo students can snag these ripe foods, cook a week’s worth of meals and refrigerate or freeze them so that they can be taken to school and heated up at any convenient moment.

Why do students choose this way of eating?

Students looking to lose or maintain weight while ensuring they receive adequate amounts of protein may choose the paleo diet.

How can students adjust their cafeteria meal plan and prepare for snack cravings while studying in the library, at friend’s dorms, etc.?

Paleo students shouldn’t have too much trouble finding and array of foods to eat on campus. In fact, given the high cost of lean meats, stocking up at the campus dining hall may be the most cost-efficient way for students to eat paleo. Most dining halls have an array of meats from which to choose, and as long as they aren’t smothered in some sort of sauce, they’re probably paleo-approved. Eggs and omelets can be good breakfast or between-class snack options for students who want a quick boost of protein, and the salad bar is a great place to load up on leafy greens and vitamin-rich veggies. Students should look out for cheesy, bready and greasy foods; they are plentiful in dining halls but definitely not paleo-friendly.

Tips for paleo eating at school

  • Students who cook at home also benefit from having more control over the foods they eat. It’s easy to find oneself eating essentially the same foods every day at school dining halls, which can lead to an unbalanced diet. Cooking at home allows for variety, and students know exactly what they’re eating and how much.

  • See if your school has any grills that are open to student use and have a barbeque with some friends.

Resources, Apps & Tools for Mindful Eating at School
On Campus
Nutrition teachers and/or wellness centers
Finding a dietary expert on campus can help students determine a mindful eating program that works for their lifestyle and health needs and can ensure they are doing it in a safe way.
Student groups
College is a great time to meet people with similar goals and interests, so students might not be surprised to find student groups that focus on diet and lifestyle. These groups can be excellent support systems for newcomers.
Apps
21-Day Vegan Kickstart
Jumping into a vegan diet can be intimidating, especially for students who have plenty of other things to worry about, but this app eases the process by providing recipes, meal plans a guidance to new vegans.
Is It Vegan?
While many vegan-friendly food items are labeled as such, there are many secretly vegan and just as many surprisingly non-vegan foods out there. With this app, students simply need to scan barcodes to find out whether the item is or isn’t vegan and why.
Paleo.io
This app not only helps users determine which food are paleo-friendly, it also explains why that food is or isn’t paleo and where on the paleo spectrum that food falls.
Raw Meal Plans
This app is good for raw food newbies and veterans alike. The app supplies meal plans, complete with recipes, which takes the guesswork out of starting a raw diet and relieves some stress for busy students.
ShopWell
This is great app for people of with all types of dietary restrictions. Just input your goals and restrictions, and the app helps you find groceries that suit your needs.
Online
PaleoLeap
This site provides recipes, articles and other information designed to make learning about paleo easy.
Raw in College
This blog can help college students prepare for and maintain raw diets while navigating college life.
Vegan.com
This site provides easily digestible tips, guides, recipes and other helpful resources for going vegan.

BE WELL: Go Holistic

Many colleges offer on-campus healthcare facilities and student insurance plans, but students may be interested in alternative forms of healing and preventative care. Wellness practices like acupuncture, reiki, herbal medicine and eastern medicine may help students relieve their stress and have fewer sick days. Students can often incorporate these holistic wellness practices into their everyday routines. It is important to keep in mind that these practices aren’t scientifically backed and, as a result, are rarely covered by insurance. However, students may feel positive effects from engaging in these practices and want to work them into their health care routines. There are dozens of holistic practices, with some shown below.

Holistic and Alternative Health Practices

Acupressure

Using pressure from the fingers on points on the body to treat pain, tension, and other physical issues. Includes specific forms such as shiatsu.

Acupuncture

Inserting needles into specific points on the body to increase flow and decrease pain and tension in various body parts and organs.

Aromatherapy

The use of essential oils derived from plants to treat physical and emotional ailments. Oils can be massaged into the skin, placed in bathwater, or used in an infuser for inhalation.

Ayurveda

A 3,000-year old medical treatment philosophy originating in India that incorporates the concepts of life forces, interconnectedness and the body’s constitution. Consists of herbs, diet, exercise and lifestyle changes as prescribed by a qualified practitioner.

Cupping

The application of glass or bamboo suction cups to troublesome spots on the body. Used to promote circulation and healing.

Herbalism

Using plants and plant-based derivatives to treat illness, physical discomfort, tension, stress, chronic conditions and more.

Hydrotherapy

The use of water in the treatment of disease and pain. Includes the use of steam, ice, and hot and cold water.

Reiki

Qualified practitioners of reiki use light hand touch on specific parts of the body to direct healing energy to treat emotional, physical and mental disharmony.

Sound Therapy

The use of applied and specific sounds (gong, chimes, tuning fork, Tibetan singing bowls, etc) to heal and align physical and mental disharmony, aid meditation, and reduce anxiety and stress.

Resources, Apps & Tools for Holistic Wellness at School
On Campus
Holistic health classes
Students who are really interested in holistic wellness should see if their school has any classes to take for credit.
Counseling services
Talking to a counselor can be a great way to manage stress and emotions, and it gives students the opportunity to ask questions and find holistic health resources.
Apps
Home Remedies+: Natural Cures
With this app, students can look up recipes for home remedies, submit their own, store their favorite recipes, ask questions and share on social media platforms.
My Reiki Box
This app replaces a traditional reiki box, where people put write where they want to send healing energy. This app allows users to enter healing requests and send energy to the people or situations in your healing box.
Qi Gong Meditation Relaxation
Students can learn about qi gong through articles and videos found in this app, and they can practice qi gong meditation and mindfulness with the help of audios.
Online
National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
Students can use this website to help them find qualified acupuncturists.
Natural Medicines: Foods, Herbs and Supplements Database
Learn about the different healing properties of foods and herbs.

Expert Advice on Finding Your Zen at School

Expert

Dr. Appachanda Thimmaiah is an expert in regenerative agriculture promoting low-carbon green approaches for rural development. He is a senior faculty at the Department of Sustainable Living of Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa where he teaches courses in organic farming, biodynamic agriculture and Vedic organic agriculture. He is also preparing to teach a professional program on regenerative organic agriculture at MUM.

How do practices like meditation, yoga and holistic wellness play into education and the college experience?

At MUM, we practice transcendental meditation. Transcendental meditation is a very natural process of diving deep down into oneself that allows us to feel that unified field wherein all laws of nature coexist. If one can experience that particular unified field, one can express their potential fully. If you look into modern education, most students suffer from stress. By de-stressing, we can make the whole experience of learning more joyful, and we learn things in a much more joyful and blissful state of mind. That is very important for millennials and the modern education system where the youth are the most stressed people.

Do you have any advice for students who are having a hard time making certain lifestyle changes or maintaining them?

My advice is that students should allow themselves to experience simple meditative techniques and make the whole learning process and college life a blissful experience. Students don’t need to feel like they have to believe in transcendental meditation; it’s a technique, not a faith or a religion. It’s like a car. One need not believe in the car, but one should know how to drive it. My advice is to just give it a try. It can provide a lot of benefits. When a human being is at peace, we create peace around, and it multiplies. We understand our food, we understand the environment, we understand our habitat more holistically than in a reductionist or mechanistic way.

So the meditation is at the root of other factions of wellness, like eating healthy foods and being connected with your environment?

Yes. Because what is environment? Environment is just an extension of the self. Nature is an extension of the self. When we dive deep inside and experience that unified field, which is the field of all possibilities, you think, “Oh, food is very important. I can’t eat foods that are laced with all types of toxins.” You understand things at a much subtler level. By experiencing the self, one’s consciousness spreads across food and the way we live and the way we make choices. It expands to different realms of our living. That experiential dimension is very important. Anyone can experience it. It’s not like one needs to have a special bent of mind to learn meditation. It may require a few hours of learning, but anyone can do it.