For 10 years, Princeton’s University Health Services has offered a series of programs to promote mindfulness and meditation in the community, ranging from a Women's Meditation Series to Mindfulness for Grad Students to Koru Mindfulness, a course developed specifically for college-aged students.
“The overarching purpose of the series is to create a space where we can pause in the midst of our hectic lives,” said Shefalika Gandhi, one of the founders of the Women’s Meditation Series. “Being able to slow down, pace oneself, be still, and simply pause — these are things that many students yearn for but have a difficult time being able to do.”
The Women's Meditation Series began as a joint outreach initiative between University Health Services and the Office of Religious Life. In the spring of 2015, Dean Alison Boden and Gandhi began offering monthly meditation sessions. Since then, the program has continued with around 25-30 women present each session. It is now facilitated by the Mind-Body program coordinator Nathalie Edmond.
“One favorite thing about facilitating the Women's Meditation Series is the range and nature of topics that we present on,” explained Gandhi. “The sessions focus on themes of self-compassion, family, connections, forgiveness, etc.”
Dr. David Campbell, another member of the Mind-Body team, set up the Koru Mindfulness program on campus three years ago. Koru was developed by two Duke psychologists in an attempt to teach mindfulness to college students. It is set up as a course, with registration, a syllabus, and assignments with the idea in mind that students have a particular way of thinking about “studying.”
“It is set up to underscore the commitment of students to participate in the workshop and to promote consistency in their practice,” explained Campbell.
The course consists of four sessions, where students practice mindfulness activities and meditative techniques. “As you move through life, you often lose track of being aware with intention,” said Campbell. “You move on autopilot. And you lose something in that process. Mindfulness is seen as something that will bring you a greater sense of being present in your life, present in your relationships, and lead you to feel better."
Meditation is a tool for this sort of mindfulness. “The idea is to build it up slowly over time – starting off five or 10 minutes a day and building up to 20 or 30 minutes a day,” said Campbell. “The goal is to bring awareness into the present moment in a way you might not have done before — perhaps in an interaction with a friend. It enhances the quality of your experiences.”
While many students might feel they do not have the time for these workshops and sessions, Campbell and Gandhi both had more general advice for students in their day-to-day lives.
“There are these six things conducive to good mental health,” explained Campbell. According to Campbell, these things are:
- Working toward your goals
- Meaningful personal relationships
“There’s a lot of academic demand, and so students invest an inordinate amount of energy in working towards their goals,” said Campbell. “And they can run the risk of throwing themselves off balance.”
“One piece of advice I have for students is to treat sleep as sacred and to prioritize it as much as possible,” said Gandhi. “A good night's sleep is essential for the mind and body.”
In addition the Mind-Body programs run by University Health Services, the Office of Religious Life hosts community meditation every Thursday and daily Buddhist meditation. Both are held in Murray-Dodge Hall.
University Health Services also lists self-care phone apps on its website, including Calm, an app for sleep, meditation, and relaxing; Daily Yoga; and Gratitude Diary, to keep track of the positive things in your life.