By Maxwell Engel
Before attending the Mindfulness Meditation Club, I was unsure of the benefits of meditation. I was exposed to the scientific bases for the powers of meditation through a few different writings on the topic, and became intrigued in its ability. Though still unconvinced, I knew this was something I had to experience myself. I needed to see if it could help me.
The practice and discipline of mindfulness is a meditation technique in which the meditator is supposed to mentally take a step back from their own minds. Dedicated practice helps one to better understand themselves through careful examination of their own thoughts, hence the name, the Mindfulness Meditation Club. It welcomes anyone with open arms and those who wish to learn and practice their mindfulness skills through a series of meditations and rhythmic breathing exercises.
This strategy of meditation, coupled with rhythmic breathing exercises, and in some cases, physical activity such as yoga, has been practiced for thousands of years, dating back to the Buddha. The Buddha’s teaching emphasizes the importance of self-reflection in achieving enlightenment. A study done by the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University backs up the claims, saying that mindfulness training can allow users to better empathize and connect with others. By intently studying one’s self, and the emotions which affect them, mindfulness practitioners become more compassionate and sympathetic.
The club meeting followed a similar layout. First, we began with a simple ‘In through the nose, out through the mouth’ exercise to relax. Then, we were tasked to clear out our minds, focusing entirely on the breathing. When thoughts and sensations drift into your mind, you should examine it; understand how it affects you, and why it entered your mind, without becoming emotionally attached or affected by it.
Michaela White, a graduate of WSU with a Bachelor of Psychology degree, founded the club in 2019, which ran in-person meetings until the beginning of the pandemic.
“I really missed having a group to meditate with,” White said. “There was something that felt so good about sitting in the same room and talking about any questions or any experiences and learning from other people, and sharing too.”
White was first exposed to meditation through her sister, who was attending a local yoga class which incorporated mindfulness techniques into its program.
“It was transformative for me. I really wanted to work on being able to feel calmer, to not be thinking about 12 things at once,” White said.
Even having only practiced for a short amount of time, the techniques of mindfulness are certainly powerful. I had not realized how much stress I was under, until I tried to empty my mind. With the deadlines of several papers in the near future, It was difficult to simply ‘ignore’ my feelings about them, and the anxiety building from them. Mindfulness meditation didn’t help remove what I was feeling, but helped me to understand it. There was no point in letting the anxiety compound by constantly thinking about it.
While a virtual setting might be strange for a meditation meeting, the Mindfulness Meditation Club President, Rebecca Carrillo, an Occupational Studies major, sees the online meetings in a positive light.
“During my meetings, I invite people to shut off their microphones and cameras while we meditate,” Carillo said.
“I’ve found that this brings a lot of my club members more peacefulness and confidence while they meditate. I remember during the in-person meetings I would sometimes feel anxious about meditating in front of a group of people, especially because I didn’t know any of them at the time. Meditation is often a very personal and private experience, and so I’m glad that the virtual setting can actually help people feel more at ease with meditating in a club.”
For the first meeting I attended, I’m glad that It was virtual. I was much more comfortable finding a suitable place in my home, rather than a classroom on campus. At home, I was more at ease, helping me to be more confident and willing to share my reflections. If I had been on-campus for the first meeting I attended, I might’ve felt out of place, not to mention uncomfortable. Considering the restrictions that would have accompanied hosting it on campus, it may prove to be more trouble than it’s worth.
Being able to social distance would be the easy part, but ten people doing heavy breathing exercises in a closed room could be the dangerous dealbreaker. That’s also not to mention the physical act of heavy breathing through a mask, which may prove to be irritating and difficult. For those reasons, it would be hard to see anyone prefer in-person meetings over virtual, at least while restrictions are in place.
“I do feel safe, however I do not have plans to do so in the near future,” Carrillo said, in regard to returning the club to on-campus meetings.
When better to attend a meditation club designed to deal with stress and anxiety than during a time like this? Meditation is an easy escape opportunity, especially considering how most of us have been in lockdown for over a year now.
According to several studies, including a review by the New York Academy of Sciences, mindfulness meditation helps not only mentally, but also physically. In their analysis, they determined that mindfulness-based meditation can help offset cognitive issues which develop as we age. The University of Pennsylvania determined that mindfulness can assist in the prevention of cardiovascular issues by regulating hormones which cause the heart to race or slow, based on emotional reaction.
Julie Glovin, a graduate of Boston University with a Master’s degree in Social Work, is a counselor and social worker here at Worcester State University, and agreed that the mental health benefits of meditation are real, and is useful and helpful for everyone.
“The majority of us actually, as we go through the day, we do more shallow breathing. In terms of how stress impacts our body, it gets our sympathetic nervous system going,” Glovin said. “That’s the fight, flight, freeze response, so even if it’s just running to a class, or going from class to class, some of that adrenaline can build upon itself.”
Stress is one of the most dangerous components in deteriorating heart health. According to the University of Rochester, Cortisol, another hormone released when the body experiences stress, can build up over time, leading to increased chances of developing heart disease.
Mindful meditation, a relatively simple and not at all lengthy procedure, can produce noticeable results with very little requirements. It’s not something that has to be scheduled or kept on a strict timer, but something that anyone can do; anyone can take five or ten minutes here and there to sit back, practice breathing, and focus on your thoughts. For such little cost, and positive benefit, more people should look towards meditation as a solution to stress reduction, and the Mindfulness Meditation club is open to all. The club runs virtually over Zoom at 4:40pm on Wednesdays.
Author’s Note: For more information about the club or attendance, contact firstname.lastname@example.org