By Christie Melhorn, October 3 2017 —
Between late nights studying, looming deadlines and everyday life, it’s easy for students to get caught up trying to keep up. The Breathe Easy Meditation club at the University of Calgary wants to help students slow down and strengthen their mental health.
According to the U of C’s campus mental health strategy, 90 per cent of students feel overwhelmed, 64 per cent are lonely and 50 per cent struggle with anxiety. Club president and engineering student Masha Manina says she wants to help combat some of these issues through meditation.
“There are a lot of mental health struggles on campus,” Manina said. “I used to get super stressed. I’d have breakdowns before an exam and think, ‘I can’t do this.’ So many people have trouble with exams. But after practising meditation even for just half a month, I noticed I felt totally calm before my finals in June. Through meditation, you can build up self-confidence.”
Manina says meditation is a simple but powerful way to boost your mood and productivity, that can be done anywhere at any time.
“We breathe all the time. But the moment you become conscious of it, you realize how much of an impact it has,” she said.
Manina says that meditation has noticeably enhanced her academic performance and personal life.
“It really helps improve focus and concentration,” Manina said. “I get less frustrated than I did before if I don’t understand a concept. I’m more understanding of other people now too and don’t just see mistakes. My sister and I sometimes don’t get along and now when we have a disagreement, I can see things from her point of view.”
However, Manina warns against confusing meditation with concentration. Meditation is an increasingly popular practice in North America but is often misunderstood. Manina wants to dismantle common misconceptions about it to help students optimize their results.
“So many people think that meditating is sitting in a yoga pose with your eyes closed,” she said. “It’s not concentrating on nothing. There is no such thing as nothing. It’s about letting thoughts come and go, then letting them go. It’s about becoming aware of your breath and acknowledging where in the body emotions are affecting you.”
Manina says that Breathe Easy blends techniques from various traditions from around the world. She says their practice is mostly inspired by the teachings of philanthropist and spiritual leader Ravi Shankar. Manina learned his techniques by attending a seminar hosted by Shankar’s foundation, The Art of Living.
“[Shankar] created a breathing technique that is very unique. But it is an expensive three-day course to learn it,” Manina said. “I’m glad that I did it, but it was hard to find time out of my schedule. I won’t show the whole technique but I want to introduce parts of it to students so they don’t have dedicate that kind of time and money.”
Breathe Easy hosts hour-long group meditations twice a month on campus. The first 15 minutes are spent stretching and the rest of the session involves teaching and practising breathing techniques. Manina says meditating with a group is especially effective.
“You feel the energy of others and you build on each other. It really lifts up the mood and I’ve found it’s easier for you to let go and get into it,” she said.
Students can become members by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by attending any of Breathe Easy’s meditations, which rotate between taking place in the Ariel Room, the Bianca Room and That Empty Space in MacHall. Membership is $5 for the academic year and grants access to all club events. The next group meditation will take place in tandem with the full moon this Thursday, Oct. 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the Ariel Room. Click here for more information about Breathe Easy U of C.