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UMass Meditation Labyrinth aims to help students eliminate stress during finals

Mirei Seki/Daily Collegian)

(Mirei Seki/Daily Collegian)

As finals creep up, research papers are revised, grades are finalized and summer internships are confirmed, stress on the University of Massachusetts campus rises.

In response, the College of Nursing and the Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Department teamed up to create a sun-powered meditation labyrinth that can help de-stress any hardworking student.

Located directly behind the Integrated Learning Center on the Metawampe lawn, the temporary art installation is intended to offer a calming effect and a visually engaging experience, according to Carolina Aragon, assistant professor in the Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Department and one of the lead designers of the labyrinth.

“The project uses approximately 2000 one-and-a-half inch hand-made photoluminescent circles with a dichroic film on top,” Aragon said. “As you walk, the colors, reflections and shadows change.”

According to Aragon, the photoluminescent plastic circles are charged with natural daylight and release a soft glow at night. The film that is placed on top of the plastic creates a color-shifting quality which mimics the radiance found in nature, similar to butterfly wings.

The labyrinth is designed in a traditional mandala-like pattern, round with many twists and turns to create a longer walk in a smaller space. According to Donna Zucker, associate nursing professor and partner in creating the labyrinth, walking a labyrinth can help with stress reduction due to the patterned movement. It slows down your body and relaxes your mind, Zucker explained.

“A goal is that if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, you can leave your troubles in the middle and walk away from them,” Zucker said. “The idea of stress reduction is really to get your mind to quiet down as your body is doing the work.”

Zucker spends time as a volunteer nurse at Hampshire County Jail in Northampton, where she had set up a meditation labyrinth with a six-week mindfulness program to help with impulse control and relaxation. She said that the inmates enjoyed the program and it has continued for nine consecutive years.

During the prison program, Zucker and her partners measured satisfaction of the prisoners and effectiveness in stress reduction in their research study. She discovered that inmates using the meditation labyrinth at the prison significantly lowered their blood pressure levels by the end of the program.

“Science has shown that repeated, patterned movements can reduce our stress,” Zucker said. “It sends a message to your brain to tell it that it has to slow down. In meditation, we are aware of our moment-to-moment messages that we are getting from our body.”

The labyrinth on campus was available from April 18 to the 25. The best time to utilize it was around 8:30 p.m., according to Zucker, because of the dwindling sunlight. The 2000 circles are most iridescent at this time.

“Although I don’t have specific plans to set up another labyrinth, I would greatly enjoy doing so,” Aragon said.

Hannah Tran-Trinh can be reached at htrantrinh@umass.edu.

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