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Last May, Arizona State University set itself on a course toward becoming a more mindful institution with the opening of its Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience. Since then, the center has flourished, welcoming its inaugural executive director for university engagement, Nika Gueci; settling into its new home at the Arizona Center on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus; and rolling out a suite of community-wide events, including trainings, workshops and conferences around mindfulness.
“The center’s mission is to enforce well-being and mindfulness as a value at ASU,” Gueci said. “We hope to promote the vision of the center to create an academic ‘culture of caring’ by advancing mindfulness and compassion practices at ASU and in the surrounding community to nurture purpose, focus, resilience and connection.”
This Friday, Feb. 2, the center will host its first ASU Open Door event, “Mindfulness through the Senses,” from 4 to 8 p.m. in Health North, room 110 at the Downtown Phoenix campus, where students, staff, faculty and community members will be encouraged to engage in mindfulness through sight, sound, smell, movement, taste and touch.
Taking time to really think about how we experience bodily senses is a good way to understand how mindful practices can be incorporated into everyday life. Mindful eating, for example, “is a very simple thing that you can do on a daily basis,” said Tiara Cash, senior program coordinator with the center. (In the video below, she demonstrates mindful eating.)
Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now
Friday’s event will feature mindful artwork, samples of tea and essential oils, and a Tibetan singing-bowl demonstration performed by William Heywood, assistant director of ASU’s Design School.
ASU Now spoke with Gueci to get a primer on the basics of mindfulness ahead of Friday’s event.
Question: What is mindfulness?
Answer: To me, the practice of mindful awareness is a lifestyle, it is not finite and the mindful practitioner is never “done” exercising mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of reconnecting with the inner self by bringing attention and awareness to the present moment. Awareness of the ideas and thoughts that go through the mind is important, as thoughts can influence emotions. The way we think about our physical body and our circumstances can either expand or limit our ability to live in the present moment without judgment. In fact, mindful meditation is a practice in being present in the moment without judgment — a way to “be” instead of “do.”
Q: Some people write mindfulness off as New Age wishful thinking. Is there real evidence to support its benefits?
A: There is a wealth of literature about mindfulness and meditation … and it shows that mindfulness has been linked to a wide range of benefits in both personal and professional dimensions of life, including: enhanced time-management skills; compassion toward self and others, in other words, kindness; and increased self-efficacy, or the perception of one’s own abilities. In college students in particular, a greater acceptance in the face of disappointments and stressors; resilience, or “bouncing back” from life challenges; and equanimity, or a more balanced mood, are benefits that mindfulness can bring.
Q: What are the influences behind mindfulness?
A: We honor the cultures and religions that have used mindfulness for centuries, such as Buddhism. Mindfulness itself, however, is not a religion. Secular interventions such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) — created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus and executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School — were developed to reduce stress, promote a rise in non-judgmental awareness, encourage a positive outlook and increase self-efficacy. MBSR is a formal, eight-week course that aims to guide the student toward leading a more mindful, intentional life. Through sessions such as mindful eating, walking and communication, the student learns to regulate their emotions to external stimulus (i.e., traffic, emails and other people), to react intentionally rather than automatically. In other words, MBSR teaches the student to live a life of one’s own design rather than default.
Q: What areas of your life can you apply mindfulness to?
A: There are many ways to practice wellness and mindfulness. Non-judgmental awareness of everyday choices is the first step in adopting or enforcing habits to bring forth your most creative and healthy self. Without judgement, begin by noticing how you feel. For example, how is your mental and physical state affected by lack of sleep versus eight to 10 hours of sleep? How do you feel when you engage in physical exercise? Noticing your habits can lead to more informed decision-making — and that is what mindfulness is: making the daily decisions that allow you to be your best self. Research has shown that mindfulness can enhance focus, creativity and time-management skills; reduce stress and anxiety; and promote a greater equanimity and resilience, which are all skills that support a healthy academic and social life.
Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now
There are three more free Open Door events in February:
Editor’s note: Responses edited for length and clarity. Top photo: William Heywood, assistant director of The Design School at ASU, demonstrates Tibetan singing bowls and their calming sounds at the grand opening of ASU's Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience on May 3, 2017. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now