Hear that loud noise coming from the Wellness Center every Tuesday morning? Me neither.
New meditation classes offered through DuWell are helping students, faculty and administrators take time to be mindful, in the midst of their busy schedules. Offered every Tuesday at 11 a.m., the class started last fall as a test pilot and now has about 15 regular attendees, providing a way for the campus community to come together in a supportive, calming environment.
“Meditation and mindfulness is starting to become more and more popular,” said Justin Sharpe, student development coordinator for DuWell. “It’s a way to decrease stress and anxiety.”
Senior Gigi Falk, president of the Buddhist Meditation Club and an intern at the Wellness Center, said the idea to begin the classes came last fall because she wanted to bring a mindfulness element to the work the Wellness Center already does.
She now instructs the sessions each week, which begin with introductions and attendees explaining what brought them to the class and what they hope to get out of it. Falk then leads the meditation for about 30 or 40 minutes and finishes with the class talking about their experiences.
“The general understanding people have of meditation is that it can help offer them some kind of peace of mind and a relaxed, centered, grounded version of themselves,” she said. “These effects can come about through meditation.”
Falk explained that she became passionate about meditation after living in a Buddhist monastery for a month after her sophomore year and going on a few silent retreats, which opened her eyes to the benefits of mindfulness.
Although the class’s attendance was initially sparse, Sharpe noted that it increased three-fold after the Wellness Center ramped up its publicity efforts, using social media and targeting groups on campus.
“It’s anyone from Student Affairs staff to individuals in the hospital system to academic deans,” he said about the people who attend the class now. “It’s really creating that campus community where all different community members are able to come together.”
Falk noted that participants need no prior mindfulness experience, with many attendees having never meditated before. The sessions are often appealing to people because the Wellness Center is such an accessible location, she said. Plus, the class is very secular and does not include religious elements that people sometimes associate with meditation.
The mix of students and faculty members creates an environment where the campus community can come together as equals.
“It’s really cool because I don't think that happens often in the Duke community,” Falk said. “We’re kind of dissolving our labels and educational hierarchy.”
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Recently, the class began to introduce didgeridoo meditation, which features music played on a large wooden instrument called a didgeridoo. While traditional meditation uses the breath as an anchor, this kind focuses on the sound instead. Nathan Wilson, assistant director of undergraduate programs and services at the Career Center, plays the didgeridoo for the class.
Falk added that she hopes to continue increasing the class’s attendance and will begin hosting sessions on the yoga deck outside the Wellness Center as the weather warms up. She is also working with line monitors to bring meditation and yoga to K-Ville.
Expanding the class to other times of the week is another goal, Sharpe explained.
“We’re making it an ongoing way that students can decrease stress and anxiety,” he said. “Everyone is welcome, you don't have to have practiced meditation before.”