By Christine Huang
Stressed college students often struggle with “monkey mind,” which author Elizabeth Gilbert describes as “thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl.” Fortunately, mindfulness meditation offers an anchor for even the most untamable mind—and now universities are offering mindfulness courses for students.
”Practicing mindfulness in general calms the body and mind, helps to manage emotional reactivity, increases concentration and focus, and enhances overall health and well-being,” says Ginger Carr, associate director of health promotion and wellness at the University of Chicago.
Carr teaches a three-week introductory mindfulness course for students and staff. In the course description, she highlights that “mindfulness arises naturally out of living and can be strengthened through practice.”
“I’ve always valued self-care and learned early on that I needed to manage my own life and stress level to be effective in my profession,” says Carr, a former nurse who has taught meditation on the U of C campus since 2009.
The practice gives students “an opportunity to learn how to pause in life, see what is needed and act out of wisdom rather than operating out of old habits,” she says.
Carr’s course is based on the popular eight-week course on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
It takes a scientific approach to mindfulness and is often used to complement treatment for different illnesses.
“Brain studies suggest that there are changes in the structure of the brain resulting from meditation practice, including positive changes in the cortex, amygdala and immune function,” says Carr.
Student-led meditation groups provide continued opportunities for meditation practice. Ira Abrams, a University of Chicago alumni, hosts weekly meditation and discussion sessions at his Hyde Park home. Abrams first stumbled upon meditation 15 years ago when he began teaching high school students.
“I knew if I was going to continue teaching I’d have to find a way to enjoy having my buttons pushed [by teenagers],” he says. “I think I’m more cheerful and flexible because I meditate, and I’m a good listener, compared to how I was before I started practicing.”
Meditators seeking to deepen their practice can pursue longer retreats. The Insight Chicago Meditation Group organizes different retreats, days of mindfulness and classes in the Chicago area. The Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center offers free, 10-day intensive courses. Vipassana is a self-transformative meditation that focuses on self-observation and pays special attention to the physical sensations in the body.
Though the wide variety of meditation traditions can seem daunting at first, most practices are similar at core. For students of all ages, the practice of calming the monkey mind and finding fulfillment in the present moment can be invaluable. As Angela Lam, a third- year University of Chicago student, explains, “Meditation helps clear away stress and noise, and reminds me of what is really important in my life.”
Christine Huang is a fourth-year English major at the University of Chicago and the organizer of Wake Up Chicago, a meditation group inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.
Additional Resources for College Students in Chicago
University of Chicago
- Mindfulness for Stress Reduction workshops (wellness.uchicago. edu/page/mindfulness– meditation)
- Samatha Meditation Class (samatha.org/Chicago)
- Hyde Park Vipassana Meditation
- Zazen at Rockfeller Chapel
- Hyde Park Shambhala Meditation
- Wake Up UChicago
- Introduction to Mindfulness workshop (go.dosa. northwestern.edu/caps_ workshops/workshops/32)
- Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago in Evanston
- Chicago Zen Center in Evanston
- Ten Directions Zen (tendirectionszen.org)
Other Practice Centers: