Mindfulness Course Aims to Help Students Manage Stress


The Appalachian Online

Erin O'Neill, Reporter

Koru Mindfulness, a program that was created and developed in the counseling center of Duke University over the course of a decade, is in its second year of sessions at App State.

Elisabeth Cavallaro, coordinator for Student Mental Wellness, described mindfulness as “the practice of paying attention to whatever is happening around you in the present moment” and “not thinking about the future, not thinking about the past, but being aware of what’s happening right now.”

Koru Mindfulness is a curriculum specifically designed for teaching mindfulness, meditation and stress management to college students, according to the program’s website.

Despite the Koru classes only consisting of four 1 hour and 15-minute-long sessions, the skills learned in the course can benefit a student for their entire college careers and beyond, Cavallaro said.

“We learn nine different meditation and mindfulness skills, and we learn so many so that students have a wide variety to choose from so they can find what really works for them,” Cavallaro said.

In Koru, new skills are learned each week for students to find the type of meditation that works best for them, rather than focusing on the same two or three styles of meditation, as is done in most mindfulness courses.

Some reasons student may take mindfulness classes include reducing stress, increasing focus and getting better sleep, Cavallaro said.

“I took the class the first time around because I had heard that meditation was useful for learning to manage anxious thoughts and was wanting to try something new,” Sophia Barron, senior and environmental science major, said.

Barron said this will be her second year participating in Koru Mindfulness classes and she noted that the classes can have many unexpected perks. She said the classes offer practical tools for students experiencing high-stress levels, as well as a new perspective on meditation.

They will get to know meditation as not just something that Buddhist monks do in a Tibetan temple, but something they can do between classes to prepare for public speaking,” Barron said. “Most importantly, Koru will teach them that they should accept themselves, accept others and gain a better perspective on the circumstances they are currently in.”

Cavallaro said while the classes and concepts may seem simple, meditation is more than people might think.

“We teach a class on (mindfulness) because even though it sounds like it’s a really easy thing to do, it’s a little hard at first, and there are a lot of barriers when we live in a world where sitting still for 10 minutes at a time isn’t really something we do,” Cavallaro said.

Cavallaro also said often times, students in Koru don’t realize emotions are not who they are.

“Learning how to observe our thoughts and emotions without getting attached to them is also very challenging because a lot of times, especially in the beginning, you’re not really aware that thought is a separate thing,” Cavallaro said.

Almost everything learned in the Koru Mindfulness classes can be translated into the real world, Cavallaro said. “The class has discussions where we talk about things that are coming up in our practice and how our practice is impacting our daily lives,” Cavallaro said.

The classes also help to validate the feelings many college students experience, Cavallaro said. She said experiencing unpleasant things during a meditation session can help students to deal with  negative emotions.

“So you might be feeling sad or lonely, and instead of dwelling on that, our meditation practice teaches us to observe those things and allows us to explore what we need in response to that and also allows ourselves to be gentle with ourselves,” Cavallaro said.

Although the September classes have already begun, there are sessions in October and November individuals can still register for through AppSync. The classes are free and will take place in the Plemmons Student Union. Students are required to read the book, “The Mindful Twenty-Something: Life Skills to Handle Stress…and Everything Else,” by Holly Rogers, which is available for free through course reserve in the Belk Library and Information Commons or online.

Story by Erin O’Neill