By Julia Konow
Michaela White, a Worcester State University student, came to the Student Center Blue Lounge to participate in a meditation techniques session taught by the visiting Buddhist nuns and monks from South India. She has been practicing meditation for two years and continuously yearns to learn more about the calming practice that has helped her to alleviate anxiety.
“I started meditation when I was suffering from a lot of stress,” said White, a 20-year-old junior studying psychology at Worcester State University. “It is incredibly helpful. It really helped me to be able to focus better and not be as stressed.”
Students at Worcester State have been practicing meditation to reduce their stress. With the recent on-campus meditation sessions hosted by the visiting Buddhist scholars and the yoga classes regularly held at the Wellness Center, students have been exposed to opportunities of meditation, which has proven to have certain benefits.
“Meditation is a state of being beyond concentration when you have removed all the extra unnecessary thoughts and are able to stream all your consciousness inward toward your higher self,” said Jessica Bossolt, a 40-year-old Worcester native who works as an Occupational Therapy Assistant and Yoga and Fitness Instructor at the Worcester State Wellness Center. “Meditation helps you clear your mind and focus on what is in front of you. It makes colors seem brighter and the heavy loads we carry seem lighter and more manageable. It also helps us recognize that the emotions and expectations that we put on the future or past are not relevant when you stay in the present.”
The magazine Psychology Today describes meditation as a practice where a person turns their attention to a single point of reference, often by focusing on sensations, a word, or breath. It is used to dispel negative distractions in order to fully appreciate and focus on the present moment. Many people use meditation to clear their minds, mitigate anxiety or physical pain, and avoid distractions or negativity that arises. Mindfulness meditation is used to direct one’s full attention on the present in order to identify hidden emotions and be keenly in-tune to feelings or thoughts while interacting with others.
“When we are talking about meditation it can generally be in two forms,” said Lopon Pema Wangdak, a 34-year-old Tibetan Buddhist scholar visiting Worcester State from the Namdroling Monastery in South India. “One part is salvation, or enlightenment. Another part is very simple, to get rid of the stress, anxiety, and loneliness and to focus on other things. This can only be solved through meditation. There’s no medicine that can solve these problems.”
The visiting Tibetan monks and nuns held meditation technique sessions on Feb. 4, Feb. 6, and Feb. 11. At the meditation session, those in attendance sat in a large circle as the Lopon scholars spoke about the importance of meditation and how it is a technique that all people can practice. Wangdak explained that meditation allows for other intrusive and negative thoughts to not be blocked, but rather flow away like a river. After an explanation of the practice, people at the session were able try meditating. Some participants asked questions when they struggled with staying focused or controlling their breathing.
“Humans have the same problem, whether in the East or the West,” said Wangdak. “Some, not all but some, are having the same diseases like stress, loneliness, and depression. For this reason we have to solve this problem, and that problem can be solved only through meditation. There is no other way that we can think about it. So therefore I think that meditation is needed, not only here, but everywhere.”
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, about 29 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 meditate at least once a week, and 10 percent of people in this age group meditate only once or twice a month. Students at Worcester State have experienced benefits from their meditation and yoga practices firsthand.
“I do yoga quite a bit and focus on deep breathing,” said Madison Marceau, a 20-year-old junior double majoring in psychology and elementary education at Worcester State. “I want to try more meditation. Meditation makes me relaxed and tired at the same time.”
The scholarly article published by ProQuest titled “Mindfulness Meditation for Increasing Resilience in College Students” explains that meditation helps to strengthen resilience for people between the ages of 18 and 29. This age group is known as emerging adulthood due to the common developments that occur within this stage of life, like starting a family, beginning a career, and leaving the constraints of adolescence. All of these changes often lead to feelings of immense pressure and anxiety. Recent studies have revealed that those who practice meditation experience more positive emotions that improve resilience. For these reasons, colleges throughout the world have started to incorporate opportunities of meditation practices within their campuses. In addition to the recent meditation sessions hosted by the visiting Tibetan monks and nuns, Worcester State has incorporated meditation techniques in the regularly offered yoga classes at the Wellness Center.
“Meditation teaches us to calm our mind and keep it still,” said Mary Fowler, who has been a professor of mathematics for 15 years at Worcester State and a yoga instructor at the Wellness Center for a couple years. “Meditation doesn’t have to take a long time. If you calm your mind for just a few minutes, it’s a benefit. It brings people from an excited state, whether positive or negative, to a calm, stable, and peaceful state.”
Fowler’s yoga classes at the Worcester State Wellness Center start and end with quiet meditation, including controlled breathwork known as Pranayama. Fowler explained that people have to want to learn to meditate in order for it to make a difference in their lives, because it is a personal decision. But for those who do hope to practice meditation more often, Fowler believes that Pranayama is an important aspect of meditation and yoga that students can incorporate within their daily lives. There are also various forms of meditation available for those who are interested, like guided meditation.
“Focusing on breath is a good doorway to meditation,” said Fowler. “Breath is what we always have while we’re alive.”
Bossolt’s yoga classes, titled “Yoga Tone,” in the Worcester State Wellness Center begin with deep breathing and turning inwards before using the yoga poses as a form of exercise. The conclusion of class includes five minutes of meditation and breath. Other yoga classes that she has taught have included remaining in a pose and releasing the sensation or discomfort through breath. Bossolt noted that meditation within yoga can be used to reduce stress, as well as offer medical benefits.
“Medically, meditation is known to increase your serotonin and dopamine in the brain, reduce blood pressure, and increase activity in the vagus nerve,” said Bossolt. “This stimulates the autonomic nervous system, allowing the body to work at its optimal ability.”
Fowler explained that yoga and meditation take someone from a heightened state in the nervous system, possibly due to stress, to a more relaxed state. They have the ability to help people respond to stressful situations in a calmer way. Beyond emotional wellness, recent studies have indicated that meditation may also benefit students academically.
The New York Times published an article, “How Meditation Might Boost Your Test Scores,” that describes how meditation has been observed to have a positive impact on student test scores, founded in studies by the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Beyond helping people to manage chronic pain, depression, and anxiety, meditation has also been observed to aid students in avoiding mind-wandering tendencies during tests. In studies with students, mindfulness meditation training led to better working memories and reading comprehension skills while test taking.
“I tried meditation a couple of times,” said Sarina Geryk, an 18-year-old freshman studying communication sciences and disorders at Worcester State. “I did a lot of breathing exercises and meditation before studying or before an exam, and it helped reduce the stress.”
A scholarly paper published in the Educational Research Review journal, titled “Mindfulness-based meditation to decrease stress and anxiety in college students,” reviewed the researched effects of mindfulness meditation on the anxiety that college students experience.
The findings indicated that academic difficulties often lead to high levels of stress for college students, which results in decreased concentration, motivation, and physical health. Meditation interventions on college campuses allow students to be exposed to healthy coping strategies for their anxiety, and has been successfully incorporated in college orientations, extracurricular activities, and courses across the country to benefit students. Studies indicate that these techniques potentially increase levels of academic achievement and success for students as well.
“I think that Worcester State University should offer classes about meditation because many people don’t know about it,” said Hannah Michienzie, an 18-year-old freshman studying biology at Worcester State University. “I’ve never meditated much before but I’ve heard that it lowers stress.”
Michienzie is not the only student who hopes that meditation is more prevalent on campus going forward. Geryk explained how it is something that is very important for people who have anxiety and that it would be beneficial for college students.
“People should really do it more because it helps,” said Geryk. “It helped me a lot.”
Geryk went on to explain that she downloaded a program on her phone that provided her with breathing exercises to complete daily. Other students like White regularly practice meditation as well. White was introduced to meditation because her family is heavily involved in the practice. While meditating, White occasionally uses a singing bowl, which was also utilized in the Worcester State meditation technique sessions taught by Buddhist scholars.
A scholarly article titled “Effects of Singing Bowl Sound Meditation on Mood, Tension, and Well-being” explained the results of a study that dealt with the impact of singing bowls on meditators. It was observed that the sounds of the Tibetan singing bowl during meditation increases positive moods, feelings of relaxation, and potential cardiovascular health benefits. The study also found that the singing bowls used in meditation help generate stress relief.
“I learned meditation and it really transformed me,” said Wangdak. “In fact my mind itself and my mindset has really transformed. I’m not the only one in the universe, there are more people than just me, so why should I feel that much stress? I just think that maybe it gave me energy; a transformation.”
Various studies have revealed that meditation helps with anxiety relief and successful test taking, which is why many colleges are incorporating it on campus. The recent meditation sessions taught by visiting Tibetan monks and nuns, as well as the yoga classes taught regularly at the Wellness Center, have exposed Worcester State students to the art of meditation.
“Equanimity is the steadiness of mind, even in unsteady situations,” said Fowler. “It is to stay calm even in conflict, as well as being able to keep the mind and body steady. That’s what meditation provides. It rebalances mood, mind, and thoughts.”
Students at Worcester State interested in meditation have certain resources available on campus. Meditation is often incorporated in yoga classes that are held regularly at the Wellness Center and are open to all students. The Counseling Center also provides tips about mindful meditation to students who are struggling with anxiety.