Sitting in school

It’s October, so schools are back, bringing with them the stresses of academic life. And therefore there is a bunch of news stories focusing on meditation for students and teachers.

An article in “The Tack,” the newspaper of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, has an opinion piece on “Mindful Studying.” There’s no hard news here, but the author, who arrived at BVU “intending on majoring in psychology” found himself fascinated by mindfulness, and he cites psychologist Ellen Langer‘s view that “simply being mindful of one’s environment … can vastly improve student performance, whilst allowing one’s mind to drift off (ie. mindlessness) can result in the deterioration of student performance.”

In New Jersey, Ramapo College just opened the 1,525-square-foot Salameno Spiritual Center, which “consists of two small meditation rooms, a larger structure and a deck with views across Kameron Pond.” The $1.5 million project was funded largely through private donations, is the first religious space to be constructed on the campus of the 40-year-old public college.

Any number of universities have meditation and yoga clubs of course, so it’s pretty random what makes it into the news. But perhaps there’s something in the air in New Jersey, where Rutgers student yoga club is featured in that institution’s newspaper, in an article stressing the mental aspects of yoga practice.

Meanwhile, in Utah State University, the students now have a non-denominational Meditation Club that “is not aligned with any specific religion or tradition,” thanks to the efforts of student Jay Summerhays and English professor Michael Sowder. McKenna Miller, a junior majoring in music therapy, and who describes herself as a constant multitasker, said for her, “meditation is forcing myself to slow down and focus on one thing, like classes, which is a good thing.”

These efforts may be fighting a losing battle, however, if events at Worcester, Massachusetts’ Clark University are anything to go by. Clark University sought to promote a Day of Slowing — 24 hours without texting or checking Facebook or listening to an iPod.

They posted quotes around campus from Henry David Thoreau. Meditation groups discussed Buddhist techniques of emptying the mind and overcoming attachment. Some sipped organic tea or took knitting and crocheting classes. The dean took off his shoes and socks and led students in qigong, a traditional Chinese breathing exercise to promote awareness of body and mind.

But… “nearly every student in the academic commons of the main library yesterday was either talking on a cellphone, checking e-mail on a laptop, or otherwise connected to a digital device.”

According to the Boston Globe, “The Day of Slowing was sparked by new research that has shown how our brains are increasingly affected by the technology we use to get through the day, making it harder to focus.”

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