Students meditate to relieve stress

More students seek stress relief with meditation at the semester’s end.

Mark Nunberg, center, a guiding teacher a Common Ground Meditation Center, leads the Mindfulness for Students club in a

Mark Vancleave

Mark Nunberg, center, a guiding teacher a Common Ground Meditation Center, leads the Mindfulness for Students club in a “sit” Friday at the Mayo Memorial Building. The group meets weekly for sessions of mediation and yoga.

Cody Nelson

To deal with stress around finals week, some University of Minnesota students are turning to meditation.

Mindfulness for Students is a group that practices weekly meditation led by instructors from around the Twin Cities. Its goal: achieving mindfulness.

“To be mindful, you are able to focus your thoughts more,” said University sophomore Norma Thompson. “You can clear your head before you have to start taking on a task.”

She said the group’s meditation has helped her relax and relieve stress.

The group has existed since 2005, but president and neuroscience junior Stefan Brancel said it sees increased attendance around finals time.

More than 26 percent of students on the Twin Cities campus are unable to manage their stress levels, according to Boynton Health Service’s 2010 College Student Health Survey.

Group co-founder and guest instructor Alex Haley is a former student at the University Law School. He said mindfulness practices helped him in the “high stress” academic environment.

“In the midst of an anxious classroom environment … I was able to have a sense of calmness,” he said.

‘More than just sitting’

The content of each week’s meeting varies depending on the instructor but always focuses on meditation and mindfulness.

Mark Nunberg, one of the club’s instructors, said he tries to emphasize the importance of daily meditation for students.

Stress and anxiety can have a “snowball effect,” Nunberg said.

“Mindfulness illuminates this anxiety … it allows you to just be with anxiety,” he said.

When Haley leads meditation, he practices a “body scan” — a technique from the scientific program of mindfulness based on stress reduction.

“You simply take your awareness and sweep it through the body,” he said, “which creates a sense of relaxation.”

The group asks that each instructor practice a guided meditation and mindful movement session, Nunberg said. But each instructor has their own particular methods for practicing mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is more than just sitting, more than just meditation,” Brancel said.

He said he senses “tenseness” in students around finals time.

“We end up with people coming in more flustered, more hassled, more nervous on their way in,” he said. “The hope is that they leave minus that … for most of the people, it seems to work in that direction.”

For the group, mindfulness is a practice that can be applied to life outside the meditation room.

“The practice of being mindful is really functional in daily life,” Nunberg said. “It actually helps you deal with difficult situations in life and just makes life work better.”