Whether you are a student, staff, or faculty member at Illinois State University, you may be experiencing more stress, anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, loneliness, or unease about the future. Some of this may be due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but it also could be due to other challenges in your life. The good news is that there are things you can do to help bring some calm into your life.
At Illinois State University, we offer a program on mindfulness and meditation called Koru. It is an evidence-based program that was initially developed by researchers at Duke University for college students. Since that time, it has not only been found to be effective for young adults, but also for older adults as well.
At Illinois State, Health Promotion and Wellness staff have been trained and certified to teach Koru Mindfulness and we have been teaching it for over seven years. Like the researchers at Duke, we have found that students, staff, and faculty who take our mindfulness classes have found that it helps to reduce stress and anxiety, while feeling calmer, improving their sleep, overall well-being, and focus on academic assignments or tasks at work. Many participants also notice more compassion for themselves and with others and an increase in feelings of happiness.
Getting started in our program is simple. The link to sign up for a Koru class can be found on our website.
We recommend that you start with the Koru Basic mindfulness class. It meets once a week for about one hour. In each class, you will learn about and practice two or three mindfulness and meditation techniques. After class, we encourage you to practice meditating at least five minutes a day, which is all it takes to experience the benefits. Many of the meditation techniques will focus on your breathing, which can have a powerful effect. See what happens when you intentionally start to take slower, deeper breaths and really try to feel the air in your belly. Using this part of your body engages your diaphragm, which helps you control your breathing by activating the parasympathetic nervous system to slow down your heart rate and lower blood pressure.
We also encourage you to be mindful in your daily activities, which is simply paying attention to your present moment experiences and not judging them as good or bad. Try practicing this when you take a shower. Instead of thinking about all the things you need to do for the day, just see if you can let those thoughts go and focus on how good the hot/warm water feels or the sensations of the soap on your body or the shampoo in your hair. Remember, when we meditate or practice mindfulness, we aren’t trying to stop our thoughts or feelings, but rather notice them without judgment, let them go, and come back to what we are doing at that moment. The more we practice being mindful, the better we get.
The third thing we have participants practice is writing down and reflecting on two things you are grateful for. There is a lot of research indicating that when we spend more time thinking about the things that we have in our lives that we are grateful for, we develop a greater appreciation for those things and spend less time thinking about the things we don’t have in our lives or the things we don’t like. This can also have a profound impact on our happiness and well-being.
You will get a copy of the book The Mindful Twenty-something: Life Skills to Handle Stress … & Everything Else by Holly Rogers. She is one of the creators of the Koru Mindfulness program. This book not only is helpful with providing guidance on your mindfulness and meditation practice but also offers some practical insight on how to deal with difficulties in life. Both students and faculty/staff who have taken our classes and read this book have enjoyed it and found it to be very helpful.
Usually, by the end of the four-week Koru Basic class, participants haven’t yet mastered mindfulness and meditation, but they have learned and grown enough in their practice that they are finding it helpful and seeing a lot of the benefits. Many of them will go on and sign up for the Koru 2.0 class. It follows the same structure as the Koru Basic class, meeting once a week for about an hour over four weeks, but it builds on what you have learned while introducing some new mindfulness and meditation techniques.
Many of the participants in our mindfulness classes also join us in our weekly meditation group. This group is open to anyone, whether you have taken our Koru classes or not. Even those who have never practiced mindfulness or meditation before are welcome to join. We meet for about 20–25 minutes each week, with a brief introduction followed by a 15-minute meditation. We then end with a discussion about participants’ experiences with the meditation and answer questions. You don’t have to commit to coming every week, so you can just join us as you are able either in-person or over Zoom. During spring 2022, we will be meeting on Wednesdays at noon. Again, more information can be found on our website.
Feel free to give one of our classes a try and/or a weekly meditation session. It will be one of the best things you have ever done for your well-being. For more information, contact Jim Almeda at jralmed@IllinoisState.edu or (309) 438-2053.