While universities teach many things, there are some things that they do not traditionally cover—like how to effectively handle stress and emotions—that are important elements of learning and living, notes a statement from the University of Virginia:
“Filling that gap was one goal of a new January Term course at UVA: ‘Mindfulness as a Tool for Learning and Living,’ taught by Susanna Williams, an instructor at the Mindfulness Center in the School of Medicine, and Lynne Crotts, a doctoral student at the Curry School of Education, which offered the course.
The course offered an ‘authentic exploration of unexamined thoughts and behaviors that are obstacles to students’ effectiveness in learning,’ as the syllabus explains. Along with reading and writing assignments, the students learned a wide range of contemplative exercises that cultivate emotional balance, concentration and the ability to cope with stress, Crotts said. Mindfulness is ‘paying attention, in the moment, without judgment,’ she explained. Over the 10 days of the course, students heard from almost a dozen guest speakers who taught the class a variety of contemplative practices, including yoga, nia and t’ai chi.
There is a growing movement to teach mindfulness and growing student interest in the topic, Williams said. (UVA’s new Contemplative Sciences Center, launched in April, will offer a 180-person class this spring on ‘Buddhist Meditation and Modernity’ that will cover mindfulness. There are 50 students on the waitlist.) Interest is being spurred in part by research in recent years that is validating the connections between stress and learning.
‘Stress decreases cognitive potential,’ Williams said. ‘So mindfulness is not just a nice thing to do. It actually has very concrete, positive cognitive results,’ including sustained attention span, improved listening skills and increased emotional intelligence.” (Read more here.)
My favorite part of the statement is a comment from a student named Alan Zhao, a third-year math and statistics major:
“‘I’ve been going through a lot of stress,” said Zhao. ‘I think everyone does. It’s not easy going to this school,’ he added, noting that the average GPA at UVA is 3.2. ‘That’s sad after going through high school with a 4.0. Everyone here was taught that you always need to excel.’”
Meditation: it’s how to deal with the end of grade inflation. (But seriously, this class sounds like a great idea.)