Mindfulness and Meditation at UR
By: Alex Maloney, Staff Maloney
Comfortably nestled in a plaid corner chair of the Whitehurst Living Room at the University of Richmond, students are instructed to close their eyes and breathe slow deep breaths. Out with the exhales, students are told to rid themselves of thoughts and clear their minds. This scene takes place every Tranquil Tuesday at the Richmond, giving students a chance to take 20 minutes out of their busy days to practice mindfulness. Stress levels among college students nationally are high, as more and more students are reporting feeling stressed in their everyday lives. According to a NYUCN researcher’s study from 2015, 49 percent of all randomly surveyed students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis, and 31 percent reported feeling somewhat stressed. However, at the University of Richmond, administrators work toward alleviating this problem through an unusual technique — mindfulness.
Kristen Day, a psychologist at the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office at the University of Richmond sees stressed out students in her office frequently. Day practices meditation and mindfulness in her own life, and saw an opportunity to bring the ideology to campus,in hopes of helping students cope with stress. She, along with Heather Sadowski of campus recreation, Roger Mancastroppa in the Academic Skills Center and Dean of Richmond College Joe Boehman all share a passion for helping students and for meditation. It was through their collaboration that mindfulness at the University of Richmond was born.
The programs offered at Richmond attempt to capture both students and faculty on many different platforms. The program is only four years old, but is growing fast. This year on campus, there are events offered every single day. Weekly, there are Mindful Mondays (faculty only), Tranquil Tuesdays, Midday Prayer Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursdays, Tai Chi Fridays and Zen Meditation Sundays. On any of these given days, a student, professor or staff member at Richmond can attend and take a step back from anything going on in their lives.
There is no experience, materials or registration required to attend any of these events. Instead, the program aims to be as open and inclusive as possible. While midday prayer is specifically a Christian service and Zen Meditation is a Buddhist practice, students of all faiths are encouraged to attend. Day emphasizes this, as she said the majority of the mindfulness programs focus on anchoring your breathing and being in the moment and silence. While some students may be turned off by the religious undertones of Wednesdays and Sundays, the administrators involved encourage students to attend meditation other days that are completely free of any religious association.
Day said her main goal in bringing mindfulness and meditation to campus is to reiterate to students that they are enough, no matter what they are experiencing on campus. “As a student, your worth as a person does not change,” Day said. “Not if you are writing a paper, not if you have failed a test, not if you are sitting still. That’s what mindfulness is about. Slowing down. Being still. Being okay with yourself.”
In addition to Day’s efforts to bring physical meditation to campus, the mindfulness efforts at Richmond go beyond in person sessions. Dean Boehman has taken the practice to social media in an attempt to reach more students with his program called Dean’s Zen. Dean Boehman has recently started taking time out of his own busy days to record one minute video clips about mindfulness, breathing and getting into a positive mental state. He then posts these videos to the University Instagram, his personal Instagram account and each class Facebook page. He said his videos are a “non-threatening way to get involved with mindfulness; it’s for students who don’t want to sit crossed legged, breathing in a dark room.”
Dean Boehman wanted to contribute to mindfulness because he found that, when he was meeting with students, there were patterns of academic and personal stress, a problem he wanted to fix. The dean says he thinks there is a level of stress on every college campus, but at Richmond specifically there are a lot of high achievers who want to perform well, be involved in many extra curricular activities and are always focused on what’s next. Boehman finds a lot of Richmond students feel they have to appear to have everything together and have no problems on campus. However, he said that this is a facade that students can only keep up for so long, and when that charade ends is where mindfulness comes in. Boehman hopes students can use his videos and the other mindfulness programs offered on campus to combat this mentality so students can be happier on the Richmond campus.
Mindfulness and meditation are more than just relaxation techniques. For a person to be mindful, they are calm and present in their own body, focusing on nothing in the outside world. This practice has been proven to minimize stress, depression and anxiety as well as provide those in a strong mental state with the ability to be more productive, happy and relaxed in general.
However, as the University of Richmond attempts to promote this productive practice, student attendance is scattered. Some weeks students come in fairly large numbers, but only one or two students may show up on other weeks.
Are the students at the University of Richmond too stressed to find time to destress?