Meditation is an ancient practice that has been around for centuries as an aid for better sleep, controlling emotions, and becoming more in touch with oneself. Another large aspect of meditation is its ability to lower stress, which is a common tool many use meditation for.
A study in the journal of Health Psychology shows a relation between decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and an increased practice of mindfulness. This means that the more people meditate and practice mindfulness the less stress people will have.
Keene State College professor Tom Bassarear teaches courses on meditation and mindfulness and is the co-founder of the Monadnock Mindfulness Practice Center in downtown Keene. He is conducting a study on how meditation reduces stress.
Bassarear explained, “I’m doing a research study with a professor at Bridgewater State University, and in that research study I am interviewing people who have taken the mindfulness stress reduction course. I’ve interviewed about ten students and ten faculty and staff. The research study is to find out how does this work.”
Bassarear explained the results of the study and said, “One of the things that came about was that I asked people, ‘As a result of this course do you find that you are kinder to yourself or kinder to other people?’ and one hundred percent of them basically said ‘yes,’ and they found that to be—maybe in many cases—the biggest benefit.”
Bassarear first discovered meditation in 1968 and began teaching meditation in 2003.
“Meditation is where I practice being mindful every single day. One of my teachers was once asked, ‘Why should I meditate every day?’ and he said if I meditate everyday I remember to be mindful more often,” Bassarear said.
According to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study, mindfulness is described as the non-judgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.
Bassarear described his personal meaning of mindfulness. “I guess my definition of mindfulness is paying attention to present moment experience with an attitude of curiosity, interest and an attitude of not judging it and letting it be what it is,” Bassarear said.
The professor said he strives to incorporate the awareness of mindfulness, kindness and the practice of meditation in his classroom.
Danna Hatfield, a student of Bassarear’s said, “When I first started taking the class I got really frustrated because I always felt like you had to stop your mind, and then as I kept doing it something clicked, and I just felt like I would watch my thoughts and my body and I felt more aware of myself and my surrounds when I was done.” Bassarear’s class on meditation is not just about sitting in a quiet room and meditating, it focuses on breathing in and out.
Other aspects of being mindful are incorporated as well. Moriah Ferguson, another student of Bassarear’s, said about using mindfulness, “At the end of the class there was a retreat at the meditation center. He gave us lunch but we had to eat in silence. That is what I remember the most, because you don’t realize that when we eat we’re so fast-paced and don’t really care. But we really slowed our meal down, noticed the textures, which is really cool.”
Many students at KSC already practice or have attempted to practice meditation in order to lower stress.“I’ve never taken a class but I’ve done both guided and on my own off and on and it really helps. It’s soothing,” KSC student Maria Alfaro said. “It’s really helped me a lot because I get really anxious and let stress build up in me and then I would have mental breakdowns,” Ferguson added and continued, “Meditation has taught me to slow down, let things go, and just chill out for a second.”
Bassarear offers scheduled drop-in meditation sessions for students who wish to practice meditation freely. These began as a result of high-demand for guided meditation sessions from students and faculty after attending Bassarear’s classes. They are offered Mondays from 4-4:30 p.m., Wednesdays 10-10:30 a.m. and Thursdays 3-3:30 p.m. in the Green Room in the student center.
“I love them. I know I’m going to use them because I’m not signed up for his class so to be able to come and do this in a moments notice is nice,” Alfaro said.
Heather Galka, a KSC student who is new to meditation said, “I like that it’s available but you’re not required to go. You don’t feel stressed out that you have to be somewhere.”
Students and others do not need to take Bassarear’s course or drop in classes to practice meditation and mindfulness to lower stress. Bassarear offers simple advice to those who to reduce the stress in their lives.
“Whenever you see a stop sign or stop light when you’re driving, just take a few breaths—so there are lots of those that are very short, like when you’re walking down Appian Way just feel the bottoms of your feet for four or five steps,” Bassarear suggested.
Annelise Kloster can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org