Stress management class aims to boost energy and self-esteem

Monday, October 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 7:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 5, 2009

COLUMBIA — No desks, dry-erase boards, tables or chairs cram the small area separated from the rest of the Wellness Resource Center by several tall dividers. Rather, in the peace of silence, 26 students settle onto cushions placed on the floor and slow their breathing, refocus and start to pay attention in a different way.

Unlike other stress reduction resources at MU such as iRest and BREATHE, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction is an eight-week course offering students credit to develop new skills for negotiating stressful situations, improving concentration and focus, increasing energy and boosting self-esteem. The class began in 2004.

Ways to find calmness

Terry Wilson gave a few suggestions for students interested in stress reduction through mindfulness:

  • Carve out 20 minutes a day to turn off the TV and the cellphone and just sit and "be" in a quiet area.
  • Take advantage of audios on the Mindfulness Practice Web site.
  • Drop in at the mindful yoga class from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays at Bingham Commons.
  •  Stop by Green Chapel from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. every Wednesday to meditate.

“The culture in America constantly has us out of touch with our experiences because we are constantly on the go,” said Terry Wilson, who teaches the mindfulness class. “For example, when you eat an apple do you notice the color, the texture, the smell, the taste or the portion? Or when you take a shower, do you feel the hot water? Or are you thinking about classes or what you are going to be doing that night?”

“I think most students take it because the word stress reduction is right in the class title,” Wilson said. “Many have minimal to no meditation experience. It’s a real challenge for students to be in a conscious stillness.”

MU junior Emily Evans, 20, said the untraditional nature of the mindfulness class and relaxed atmosphere allows her to gain a better perspective of stress and how to manage it.

“I find it interesting the way the body can react to stress but how the mind can control it,” Evans said.

Cassady Shoaff, 19, a freshman at MU, said she was most intrigued by the idea of making time for yourself and learning calming techniques.

“It is mindfulness of the body that is the key to understanding,” Wilson said. “Body signals clue us in and connect us to emotions and thoughts, and they’re hard to separate."

The mindfulness class covers such material as learning how to be in the present moment, dealing with unpleasant experiences, understanding stress physiology and mindful communication.

The class includes a full-day retreat during which the teacher will guide students through a series of reflective practices, Wilson said. “The purpose of the retreat is to experience a self-care day, to sum up and pull together all the concepts the class has encompassed,” she said.

Wilson said the mindfulness class allows students the chance to get out of autopilot and out of their conditioning.

“The purpose of MBSR is a study of the self," Wilson said. "The students are the scientists, and their life is the lab.”

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