Earlier this week, we attended the NASPA Region II conference held at George Washington University in Washington, DC. It was a great experience, a wonderful complement to the National NASPA Conference we attended earlier this year in New Orleans. The conference was expertly organized and well-attended.
We had the opportunity to speak about how we transform compliance requirements into engaging learning experiences, and we valued the discussion with the audience afterwards. But what we enjoyed the most was the opportunity to meet with practitioners and attend other sessions. We always learn a lot from these conferences.
One session we wanted to write about was actually the last one we attended. Yael Shy, the Director of Global Spiritual Life at NYU, presented on NYU’s Mindfulness Project. Director Shy outlined the Project’s popularity and rapid rise, discussed the current research on mindfulness, and led the session in a guided meditation, letting us experience what she was talking about.
According to the Project’s website, Mindfulness is “[t]he intentional moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and surrounding environment without judgement.” The practice of mindfulness usually involves meditation (meditation does not always have a spiritual or religious dimension). Having grown rapidly, NYU’s Mindfulness Project now offers weekly meditation and yoga classes as well as programs and events centered on Mindfulness and meditation. Besides detailing the success of the program at NYU, Director Shy argued that mindfulness could help address some of the challenges schools are facing today.
For example, according to the Higher Education Research Institute’s (HERI) American Freshman survey, “students’ self-rated emotional health dropped to 50.7%” in 2014. This is the lowest level in the history of the survey. By itself this information should worry college administrators, but HERI’s research also suggests that poor emotional health hurts student engagement, negatively impacting affected students’ college experience.
Mindfulness might be one way to help elevate student’s emotional health. Although meditation and mindfulness research is still young, the results are quite promising. They suggest that meditation can enhance mood, promote a healthy immune system, reduce stress, improve sleep, benefit relationships, and even slow the loss of brain tissue associated with aging. If you’re interested in learning more, UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center has a good research summary on the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation.
Given this research, starting a mindfulness practice on your campuses could be a valuable goal to set for next year. A good place to start would be reviewing the website for NYU’s Mindfulness Project to look at their offerings. UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center also provides useful resources, including guided meditations and research. Also check out Calm.com, a website with relaxing music, peaceful scenes, and timed, guided meditations. Or visit the American Mindfulness Research Association.