Erika DiPasquale, Copy Editor
In October, a group of 5 students met with Chemistry Professor Emirate Esther Gibbs on Sunday afternoons for an introduction to Mindfulness Meditation. The course was free and available to all Goucher students and Professor Gibbs plans to offer it again. She says that all students would really benefit from it, even if they can only make one of the sessions.
The free course is based in scientific thought rather than spirituality, making meditation more logical and available to people of all belief systems. According to Professor Gibbs, modern society has conditioned people to have the same fight, flight, or freeze reaction to daily stressors that previous societies had only when their lives were physically threatened, such as when a tiger jumped out at them in the woods. It is unhealthy for the human body to experience this reaction on such a regular basis. Our lives are not threatened by our workload or daily responsibilities or tension in our relationships. But our bodies are reacting as if such daily stressors are actually threatening our lives.
Meditation is a way to control this reaction. By simply meditating for 10 minutes a day, you can regain control over the way your body reacts to stressors. It takes practice to re-wire your brain to interpret potential stressors as not life threatening, and Professor Gibbs’s mindfulness course was the first step to do so for those who participated.
Professor Gibbs used the KORU program to structure the course, which recommends reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are and having every student keep a meditation log during the week to hold themselves accountable to practicing. Professor Gibbs’s priority was to teach the students a variety of meditation techniques and why meditation is important to one’s health, so the reading and the weekly logs were not a true time commitment, although the initial course description made it appear as if they were. Each student had access to a GoucherLearn page with a number of meditation resources and guided meditation recordings.
The free class introduces you to a variety of meditation techniques. You don’t have to sit in silence with your eyes closed and legs crossed to meditate. Each technique employs a specific “anchor” to center your focus on the present moment.
Belly breathing and dynamic breathing use the breath as an anchor. Since the breath is something you always have in the present moment, these techniques can calm you without you having to stop whatever you’re doing.
Walking meditation uses the feeling of your feet moving on the ground as an anchor and is especially helpful when you’re too anxious to meditate sitting down.
If you’re struggling to focus, you can tell yourself what to do using a Gatha meditation mantra. To use this technique, you simply remind yourself that you’re breathing in, and you’re breathing out, to smile and calm yourself, and that you are in the present moment.
Since the purpose of meditation isn’t to completely wipe your brain of thoughts, as is common misconception, labeling thoughts or emotions is another mediation technique. Rather than simply dismissing your thoughts as they come, you can recognize what kind of thought or emotion you’re experiencing during your meditation practice in order to file it away. This way, instead of wasting your meditation practice planning your day or worrying about something, you are mindful about the thoughts you’re experiencing and can react to them calmly.
Mindful eating is one of the last techniques Professor Gibbs introduces her students to. She directs you to observe how the piece of food looks and feels in your hand, how your arm moves to place the food in your mouth, and how it looks, feels, and tastes in your mouth. The students were blown away about how many more senses they experienced when mindfully eating rather than eating as quickly as possible like many of us do on a daily basis.
Not all the options worked for all 5 students. Each had their favorites that they incorporated into their daily routines. In order to find which works best for you and how to control your body’s reaction to stress—especially if you’re skeptical—look out for an invitation to participate in this free course during the Spring semester, even if you can’t commit to all 4 sessions!