‘Meditation Wednesdays’ offer relaxation and peace in the middle of hectic weeks

By Gina Lopez

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(woodleywonderworks/ Flickr)

(woodleywonderworks/ Flickr)

Wednesday is usually the point in the week where many students feel drained, defeated and most of all, ready for the week to be over. There’s too much homework to complete on too little sleep, and the few days feel like an eternity. However, there is a light at the end of this midweek tunnel, and its name is mediation.

Every Wednesday at noon, the University of Massachusetts Recreation Center offers a meditation class in the Wellness Center as part of “Wellness Wednesdays,” an idea originated this semester. The class aims to provide students with a day of the week to come to the Rec Center and meditate in order to rebalance, prioritize and avoid stress.

In the corner of the Wellness Center is the meditation corner where these weekly classes are held. This area was created as a safe space to encourage calmness, serenity and peace in each visitor’s life.

Olivia Clark, a certified Vinyasa Yoga instructor at the Rec Center, serves as the meditation instructor. She structures her guided mediation class specifically toward battling anxiety and stress relief. She said that she “keeps an open mind” toward other methods of relaxation (such as conversation) as well. It all depends on the needs of the people who attend the class.

Meditation has recently been appropriated by many academics and the benefits of adopting meditative routines have been studied and delineated in many experimental studies. For example, Charles L. Raison, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University, proved that meditation can improve brain function, metabolism, weight loss efforts, sleep and connectedness with others.

In addition, according to an investigation by the American Medical Association’s Journal of Internal Medicine, regular meditation practices improve anxiety, depression, stress, pain and mental health.

While a small number of educational systems are adopting the practice into their curriculum, those that are experimenting with the idea are reaping the benefits. In a study by the Journal of Child and Family Studies, a five-week meditation program was introduced to study how meditation affects classroom behavior of elementary school students in Richmond, California.

This study found that meditation led to an improvement in classroom behaviors. In a similar study done in the British Journal of Psychiatry, it introduced meditative techniques to students in secondary schools and found that students who participated in the test reported less symptoms of depression, decreased stress levels and greater overall well-being.

“If your mind isn’t in the right place your body will follow by also not being in the right place,” said Clark on the issue of the lack of focus on student’s mental health in school settings.

Regardless of the proof of benefits of mediation, some skeptics still feel as though meditation will not help them, according to Clark. Clark admitted she too was originally skeptical of meditation, adding, “It was something I always believed in, but never thought I could do … I didn’t think I had the time or patience to figure it out.”

But there is a variety of forms of mediation for people to experiment with if they don’t feel that traditional meditation techniques will work for them. Types of meditation range in various levels of difficultly, time and method.

One form is primordial sound meditation, which is a practice that uses the techniques of traditional Vedic Indian meditation. In this practice, the meditator adopts a personal mantra, such as “Om,” and repeats this word or noise for a chosen period of time. Another mediation-based practice is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction. This type of practice includes a combination of mind-body techniques, such as yoga and meditation, to help reduce pain and stress and promote relaxation and a peaceful quality of life.

Clark, however, believes she adopted a simple definition of meditation that doesn’t fit into one particular mold. She defines mediation as “bringing your mind into the right place however your body is telling you to get there,” adding she believes other activities like running are also meditative practices.

Clark’s biggest hopes for her class are that people gain a deeper understanding of themselves and what does and does not work for them personally when it comes to mentally centering themselves through guided meditation. Meditation is about calming one’s self and taking some time to regroup and relax, however one choses to do so.

For anyone looking for additional resources, meditation classes are also offered on campus through informal non-denominational, student-led groups on campus. These groups lead mediation classes each Monday at 8 a.m. and Thursday at 7:30 a.m. in the Rec Center Wellness Center and on Tuesday and Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Campus Center.

Gina Lopez can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @gina_lopezz.