College – and life in general – can be stressful. Thanks to the new Meditation Room on the SUNY Oneonta campus, students, and employees have a place to go to escape the pressure for a while…and just breathe.
The serene atmosphere is designed to encourage mindfulness. It’s a place where campus community members can come engage in yoga, practice meditation, even try out some aromatherapy and “sound bathing” all with one objective: prioritizing mental health.
The Meditation Room, located in Lee Hall, Room 11B, is large and bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows at one end that overlook a wooded area below campus. The walls are painted a calming blue, and the floor is covered with soft area rugs and comfortable cushions for sitting or kneeling.
A shelf on one wall holds a collection of yoga mats, and next to it is a meditative sandbox with small tools. Large light therapy lamps, used to treat seasonal affective disorder, are mounted on the wall. A large wind chime and water fountain add to the peaceful ambiance of the room.
The Meditation Room is a project spearheaded by SUNY Oneonta’s Office of Health Education and the Oneonta Mindfulness Initiative, according to Health Educator Rebecca Harrington. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified a simple fact, she said – that many people suffer from anxiety and other forms of mental distress.
“It is our hope that by making mindfulness resources available, including space for and information about various contemplative practices, that the campus community will have more resources to draw upon that might assist them in addressing these issues,” Harrington said.
The term mindfulness refers to the practice of “observing sights, sounds and other sensations, including internal bodily sensations and thoughts, without being carried away by them.” When practiced daily, mindfulness can bring about a direct, objective awareness of one’s lived experience.
Deep breathing meditation techniques have been scientifically proven to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which prompts relaxation, Harrington said. In addition to helping with stress, meditation is known to relieve other common mental health conditions among college students, such as exam anxiety, and improve academic performance by boosting focus and concentration and improving short-term memory.
Bharath Ramkumar, assistant professor of Fashion & Textiles and another member of the Oneonta Mindfulness Initiative, is well-versed in the impact of meditation. He begins each class by leading his students in a five-minute meditation, encouraging them to focus on their breath and positive affirmations for the day. The practice has been so successful that he is planning to publish a study on the topic and is helping other professors on campus incorporate meditation into their classrooms.
“All day long we’re going from one thing to another, and there’s so much spillover of thoughts and emotions,” explained Ramkumar. “Taking a little break so you can realign and reorganize your mind allows you to let go of whatever happened before this and lets you better engage in your day.”
For now, the Meditation Room is open to students, staff, and employees from approximately noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Specific hours may vary by week and will be posted on the room’s website. As the semester progresses, Harrington hopes to be able to plan guided meditation times and allow campus groups to reserve the room.
“We saw a real need for this type of space among our students and staff,” Harrington said, “so we are elated to be able to offer this room and help make the many forms of mindfulness more accessible to our campus community.”
Visit the Oneonta Mindfulness Initiative website to learn more and try out a free guided meditation.