After a refreshing weeklong break, class is back in session at UMass Boston. But before you start stressing about projects, papers, deadlines, and finals, take a breath. Take several.
This is the second semester that University Health Services (UHS) is hosting the Koru Mindfulness® program, an evidence-based curriculum specifically designed for teaching mindfulness, meditation, and stress management to young adults. UMass Boston joins more than 60 colleges and universities across the country who are bringing Koru to the classroom.
Linda Dunphy, director of the UHS Health and Wellness Program, is a Koru-certified instructor. She facilitates the Koru sessions at UMass Boston and said that the objective of the program is to impart skills and strategies to students to help them in better managing their stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as decrease disruptive sleep behavior and improve their well-being.
“The practice of mindfulness assists individuals in finding balance and increasing well-being,” said Dunphy. “It’s a way to pause and be present in the present moment.”
More than 200 students have enrolled in the program since its October 2017 launch. Because of the successful turnout last semester, UHS has added four additional Koru sessions to its spring 2018 semester. The sessions consist of four classes—one class per week—and each class focuses on different skills and meditation practices. Classes are just one hour and fifteen minutes long, making them suitable for students to fit between classes, after lunch, or during an afternoon lull.
“Somewhere in the four years or two years that students are here, they can find five hours,” said Dunphy. “There’s no question that we really can only pay attention to one thing at a time, so if we can become better at paying attention, then we will be more effective at other things. It’s an investment.”
Throughout the four classes, students will learn about diaphragmatic breathing, dynamic breathing, body scanning, walking meditation, reciting gatha, guided imagery, labeling thoughts, eating meditation, and labeling feelings.
“Everything that’s in Koru is in some other mindfulness program,” said Dunphy, calling the program a “tasting menu” with all the active and essential ingredients of mindfulness. “Koru has taken strategies and traditions that have existed for thousands of years and refined them. You’re going to get introduced to some skills, and you’re going to get five minutes to practice each of these in the class—and some of them you might be more attracted to than others.”
In 2014, the Journal of American College Health published the findings of a randomized controlled trial that served to evaluate the effectiveness of Koru on college students and emerging adults. The trial found that, when compared to a waitlist control group, participants in the Koru group experienced significant improvements in perceived stress, mindfulness, and self-compassion.
“You’re actually changing the way that your brain is wired. It’s really helpful to be able to explain to students that there’s neuroscience behind it,” said Dunphy. “We are training ourselves to bring our attention into the present moment. It isn’t just because it feels good in that moment—but because, when the rubber hits the road, and you’re out there and you actually have to deal with impeding demands…, you need strategies that are going to work for you. Practicing a sitting meditation or a breath-awareness meditation or a gatha is kind of like going to the gym—you’re building your meditation muscle.”
Students interested in learning more about Koru can email Linda Dunphy at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next two Koru sessions begin March 20 and March 22. Additional sessions will be available in April. Those who wish to enroll in the program can do so on the sign-up page. The Koru Mindfulness app is available for download in the App Store or Google Play.