Health Promotion and Prevention organizes mindfulness initiative

07/02/2017 - Medford, MA - Students practice mental mindfulness by taking a break from studying to do yoga in Hill Hall on Feb. 7th. (Rachael Meyer / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts Health Promotion and Prevention is starting a new mindfulness initiative to help reduce the stress in students’ lives. According to the initiative’s website, it was organized in partnership with Counseling and Mental Health Services, the University Chaplaincy, the Office of Residential Life and Learning and Cambridge Health Alliance.

According to Director of Health Promotion and Prevention Ian Wong, this initiative will feature various programs such as workshops, classes and small events. As the coordinator of these programs, he is reaching out to alumni in the Boston area to strengthen the initiative.

Preparation for the program began after the American College Health Association conducted a survey of Tufts students in 2015 that observed students’ mental health, according to Wong. He said that the survey had produced shocking results: 90 percent of students surveyed felt overwhelmed, and 83 percent were exhausted but not because of any physical activity.

“That’s what this initiative is about,” Wong said. “It is directed to students stressed at Tufts. Besides focusing on how an individual perceives and reacts to a situation, we also understand the importance of the environment that causes them to feel stressed. We are not only working with students but also looking for ways to implement changes in the campus environment.”

He explained that these initiatives were also intended to prevent stressed students from making bad decisions, such as plagiarizing, copying, cheating or even abusing substances.

One of the main programs that Health Promotion and Prevention is offering during the spring semester is the Koru Mindfulness Program. Jennifer Earls (LA ’08), the instructor of the Koru Mindfulness classes, explained that there will be a four-week course about meditation and stress reduction.

I’ve been teaching the program at [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and I always wanted to bring it back to Tufts as well,” she said. “As a student myself, I was stressed trying to fulfill many commitments at once. However, after taking a Koru Mindfulness class, I felt it transform my life.”

Earls said she taught a few classes as part of the senior launch program hosted by Tufts Career Services in fall 2016, and she sees the upcoming program as a new way to let more students participate. In each class, students will learn exercises such as breathing, meditation and walking meditation. Every week, they will go to designated groups and share their individual progress from practicing these exercises 10 minutes a day, she said.

“The exercises are easy to learn and can be practiced even after the classes are over,” Earls said. “The program will be important for the students even in the long run.”

According to Wong, some of the programs are directed towards Tufts faculty and staff as well. For example, faculty members will be invited to attend a speaking event by psychologist Christopher Willard titled “Positive Procrastination.” It is intended to create awareness on campus about students’ mental health, Wong said. The speech will be held on Feb. 21 in ASEAN Auditorium, according to the mindfulness website.

Additionally, the University Chaplaincy has offered mindfulness programs for the past several years, according to University Chaplain Greg McGonigle. In particular, Buddhist in Residence Priya Sraman offers meditation and dharma study programs, McGonigle said.

“We are also interested in the secular stress reduction offerings being developed by Health Service, and we look forward to working together on those as they develop,” McGonigle told the Daily in an email.

Although this mindfulness initiative is a new program at Tufts, there have been similar efforts before, according to Resident Assistant (RA) Gabby Roncone. RAs are expected to host a certain number of events each semester.

Roncone, a sophomore, said that she often hosts movie nights for the first-year students in Houston Hall. Most of the events are social, but some are also helpful academically, she said. She said that she hosted an event last year for students to knit and learn how to register for their courses. Stress relief is the goal for these events, Roncone noted.

“I think what’s most important is for the students to have a place to socialize,” Roncone said. “These events are multifaceted in their purposes, but mainly we want the students to come and relieve their stress.”

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