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Mindfulness: The Secret to Reducing Stress and Improving Performance

Mindfulness practices are a powerful tool for minimizing anxiety and maximizing academic performance, and students love the idea of being able to earn higher scores with less internal strain and struggle. Simply understanding what mindfulness means and a few foundational principles of the practice can provide an easy, effective way to immediately benefit from an ancient secret.

Connecting Body and Mind

Whenever the mind is busy or distracted, the body is simultaneously tensing up. Releasing bodily tension with mindful awareness will clear the mind. This process also boosts blood flow to the brain and makes it easier to breathe.

Consider this chart:

                  H2O            Human 

Solid        Ice              Physical

Liquid      Water         Emotional

Gas          Steam        Mental

                           Not Present        Present

Physical         Tense                   Relaxed 

Emotional      Blocked                Flowing

Mental            Racing                  Clear

Tension in the body and mental overactivity are two different aspects of the exact same process. Physical tension creates a traffic jam in the bloodstream, clouding the mind and blocking the natural flow of emotions. To become more mentally clear and emotionally stable, it is necessary to relax one’s physical body.

For this reason, progressive relaxation is the core principle of mindfulness. 

Learning to release deeper layers of tension from the body with mindfulness is a direct way to sharpen one’s focus.

A classic way to practice progressive relaxation is with the body scan meditation, which involves consciously feeling and relaxing the body one part at a time, from head to toe.

Searching “Guided Body Scan Meditation” online will yield a number of helpful audios between 5 and 15 minutes long. They can also be found on meditation apps such as “Calm” or “Headspace.” Let the audio play while sitting in a chair or lying down. Learning to stay still will become easier over time.

What Does “Being Present” Look Like?

It is important to understand how “being present” feels before starting to practice mindfulness. Becoming familiar with the state of presence will enhance the quality of a regular meditation practice.

Presence has specific qualities:

Clear, quiet mind

Relaxed muscles

Easy, even breathing

Enhanced blood flow

Most people have experienced presence many times before: while on vacation, connecting in nature, or enjoying the company of loved ones. While one’s environment helps catalyze this neurological response, ultimately these experiences take place inside the body and mind.

Practicing mindfulness provides access to these qualities with increasing frequency, intensity, and duration.

Mindful Fitness

Treat the ability to progressively relax as a sport or form of fitness. Strength training provides bigger muscles. Cardiovascular exercise creates leaner muscles. Mindful fitness promotes relaxed muscles, which helps us feel lighter, happier, and healthier.

Set aside time to listen to a body scan audio and relax as deeply as possible. If you have a device that can track your heart rate, use the body scan to slow down your heart rate to gamify the process. A slow resting heart rate is a sign of good cardiovascular health.


Many students have benefited from taking the motivation and drive they feel about excelling in school and directing it towards improving their ability to relax and stay calm. The positive impact of releasing tension from the body will filter its way into all areas of life.