Meditation and Language Learning 2

What is Meditation?

According to the dictionary, ‘to meditate’ means to focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.

There exist different practices, such as mindfulness, mantra chanting, focusing the mind on a particular thought (an affirmation…), activity (walking, washing the dishes…) or object (a dot on the wall, a flame…) that help train attention and awareness.

When we meditate, we achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. 

The latest discoveries and research about brain function and neuroscience tell us that there are certain states that favour learning, whereas there are others that hinder it. I am, by no means, an expert in how the brain works but after extensive reading, there seems to be a clear connection between the absence of stress and fear, and more effective learning. 


This connection between calm and learning relates to brainwaves.

Brainwaves are the rhythmic or repetitive patterns of neural activity tightly connected to our central nervous system. Our brain is never idle, not even when we sleep, but the patterns of activity change depending on the activity we are performing. For instance, when we enter a deep sleep, our brains go into delta brainwaves, and this state stimulates healing and regeneration. When we are awake, we are normally active in beta brainwaves. Beta is a ‘fast’ activity, present when we are alert, attentive, engaged in problem-solving, judgment, decision making, or focused mental activity.

But there are more states than just these two. We do more than being asleep or awake and alert. However, these days, we are so busy and always “on”, that when we are awake, we have a predominance of beta waves which can lead to stress when there is not enough relaxation and “slow” activity or total rest. Too much beta activity, and especially too much over an extended period of time, is damaging, leading to stress, anxiety, muscle tension and even insomnia and addiction.

The In-Between Sweet Spot for Learning

So, what is there in-between sleep and fast activity? In-between our delta and beta brain waves?

There are two other brainwaves: theta and alpha brainwaves.

The one that interests many of us the most are alpha waves but theta are also very cool too.

Theta waves are our gateway to learning, memory, and intuition, therefore our gateway to learning and memory. Theta waves are the way to develop intuition in the language. 

But going back to the alpha brainwaves. Alpha brainwaves happen when we are in a quiet, calm, consciousness state. Just focusing on your breathing helps the brain shift into alpha brainwaves. Being in alpha brainwaves means that the limbic system can’t be aroused, which is very beneficial.

Meditación y aprendizaje de idiomas

The limbic system is the body’s threat alert system. What we know as “the fight or flight response” begins in the limbic system, in the amygdala right? The amygdala is the part of the brain that interprets sensory data and rings the initial alarm, and it also plays an important role in fear conditioning and how memories are stored. 

We don’t really want a “hyperaroused” state in general, but even less for learning.

According to Jeffrey L. Fannin, “people who spend their time mostly in alpha brainwaves possess enhanced memory, with the ability to learn new skills and potentially genius-like abilities”.


So, the perfect learning state in connection with the perfect brainwave activity involves a dance from a predominance of mid-beta to low-beta brain waves to a predominance of alpha brainwaves. 


Mid-beta occurs when we are working something out, so highly engaging brain activity. Low-beta happens when we are pondering or musing on the information. Alpha indicates the more reflective integration of the learning

Meditation for Language Learning?

The ideal state for a learner is a state of calm and tranquillity mixed with positive emotions to generate the appropriate brainwaves to reflect this state (ideally oscillating constantly between mid-beta to alpha brainwaves).

Then, the question is, how to achieve this ideal state. In a previous article, I talked about resorting to mantras and affirmations for learning, but in this article, I am talking more about meditation and relaxation.

A simple meditation, focusing on our breathing, helps the brain shift into alpha brainwaves. The more we meditate, the longer our brain will be in the alpha state, thus enhancing our memory retention ability.

How to do implement meditation in your daily life in order to enhance your learning abilities?

  • A simple one minute of deep breathing or focus on your regular breathing in between activities or before starting any learning activity can work wonders.
  • 4-7-8 Breathing: Exhale through your mouth, then inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds, then forcefully exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this cycle four times.
  • Pranayama breathing. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word for “breath control”. This technique, at it’s most basic, requires you to pay attention to your breathing pattern, which will help your brain to switch into alpha brainwaves. It’s associated with reduced stress, which is moderately present during the process of absorbing information. The vigorous breathing of pranayama techniques may engage your diaphragm and muscles, but they are designed to decrease physiological arousal, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure over time. There are three techniques I have been practising and can recommend:
    • Breath of Fire: Forcefully inhale and exhale through the nose. 
    • Skull Shining Breath: This breathing technique focuses on a slower, passive inhale and a forceful exhale. The exhale should engage your obliques and diaphragm.
    • Bellows Breath: Inhale and exhale forcefully, clearing your sinuses. This is a stimulating breath, ideal for when you need to momentarily disengage and regroup mentally.


      I can recommend the app Prana Breath in Google Play to start getting comfortable with those breathing techniques.
  • Meditation or guided meditation in your mother language, or, even better,  in your target language.

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

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