Guest Blog Karlijn - How yoga and meditation helped me during my studies at The University of Twente

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another”. During my study in Psychology at The University of Twente, students are typically bombarded with massive amounts of information in short periods of time. This, in conjunction with the pressure of exams, can be incredibly stressful. For me, during the exam periods, I was spending countless hours with my head glued to a screen or buried in a book. The inability to manage my stress resulted in increased feelings of anxiety and restlessness. After those exams, my mind often still felt foggy and disorganized. This obviously needed to change, and I found a tool that has helped me: Meditation.

The first time I was introduced to meditation was a couple of years ago when I joined my mother for her yoga class. I even tried to meditate after the class at home, but after concentrating on my breathing for a good 20 seconds, my mind started wandering and before I knew it, I was checking my phone. After that first encounter, I stopped meditating and didn’t pick it back up until my first year of study, when it became necessary to manage my stress better. I tried it again, but now with some help from a teacher at “De Yogaschool” here in Enschede.

I first started with “Hatha Yoga” which is mostly focused on physical yoga positions called asana. At the end of the class, the teacher would explain a meditation exercise to us, and we would meditate together. I noticed that my body became stronger and more flexible, which also had a positive effect considering my study. In addition, my energy system started functioning better, I experienced more vitality, and I became more skilled in meditation in general. After practising ‘Hatha Yoga’ for 2 years I started with “Raja Yoga.” “Raja Yoga” is the educational program of the yoga school and during these classes, a theory component was included. Through “Raja Yoga” I acquired the skill and ability to function better, not only on a physical level but also on a vital and emotional one. This paved the way for me for further development on a mental and spiritual level. While continuing to train in asana and meditation I also noticed some other positive effects that helped me during my study at UTwente. The most important ones are:

1.Lower stress levels and more efficient ways to cope with stress

When meditating, the goal is not to stop thinking, but to be able to take distance from all that you think and feel. When you succeed in being the observer of all that you think and feel, space is created between your perception and your experience. As a result, peace will arise and eventually silence. You can now relax your mind and body which will lead to a decrease in stress, as well as the ability to cope better with it because your mind is calmed and cleared. You train yourself to get control over your thoughts and don't feed the unhelpful stressful thoughts that cause or increase the feeling of stress.

2. Improved attention and concentration level

This effect I did not notice straight away after starting with meditation, but after practising for a couple of weeks I noticed a change. Studying for my test became easier because I could concentrate for longer and did not get distracted as easily as before. Because I was practising letting go of thoughts and feelings and distancing myself from them, I also automatically did this whilst studying. During the explanations in my “Hatha Yoga” classes, I learned that this is because during meditation you train yourself to focus on 1 point and therefore you train your ability to concentrate and pay attention. The space created in my head enabled me to absorb and remember material so easily and it improved my concentration and attention significantly.

3. Balance

 Not only did meditation help, but also the asana had a considerable effect. Because of the stress and workload of my study, I noticed tension in my body. My back and shoulders started hurting and I neglected my physical wellbeing. The asana system is an ingenious system of positions and exercises that allows you to reconnect with your body again. By repeatedly stretching, twisting, relaxing, or building up strength in the right places, you learn to very specifically remove blockages in the very places where tension has become lodged. You become aware of the tensions you carry with you, but you also experience that you can let them go. Physical exercise and your power of thought go hand-in-hand, and this brings back a healthy balance between body and mind.

I would recommend practising yoga and meditation to everyone, especially to people who are also studying or experiencing stress, it really makes a difference.

I hope you are inspired by my story and start meditating!