From social work to business to communications, students of any major can benefit from the practice
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and on the third floor of the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix, a group of second-year Mayo Clinic students are learning to walk — or perhaps more accurately, re-learning to walk. This time, they're doing it mindfully.
Arranged in a circle in the large communal room at the offices of Arizona State University’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience, they move clockwise, each step slow and thoughtful, taking their direction from Angie Haskovec, alumni coordinator for the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, who stands just outside the circle, gently guiding them.
“Think about all the muscles that go into taking each step,” Haskovec says. “Notice all the sensations in your feet. The temperature, the texture of the carpet.”
The students listen, eyes trained on the floor beneath them as they continue in their silent march.
This is day two of a four-day selective course developed by the center specifically to introduce Mayo Clinic medical students to the concept of mindfulness and related practices so they can incorporate them into their schooling and later, their careers.
Haskovec is the instructor for today’s Koru Mindfulness lesson. Developed in the mid-'90s by two psychiatrists at Duke University, the Koru Mindfulness curriculum is geared toward students and young adults, applying such practices as breathing techniques, visualization exercises and guided meditations to the specific context and challenges of the college environment.
After the exercise, the students head back to the more intimate conference room, where the rest of the day’s lessons will take place, to reflect.
“I can see why it’s so hard to program a robot to walk,” said Ryan Smith. All joking aside, Smith reported that it forced him to quiet his mind and focus just on the present moment and what was happening in it. “All the little things involved in just taking a step is something you’re not typically conscious of in day-to-day life.”
Teri Pipe, ASU’s chief well-being officer and founding director of the Center for Mindfulness, said she particularly likes the mindful walking practice because it’s “sneaky” in that you can do it without anyone noticing, unlike other practices that might require you to sit down and close your eyes for several minutes or repeat a mantra aloud.
Pipe, who also serves as a research professor at CONHI, designed the four-day selective along with the center’s executive director for university engagement, Nika Gueci.
“Mindfulness practices,” Pipe said, can help those in the medical field to better deal with stressful situations, such as a patient dying, “by strengthening their disaster-preparedness beforehand, ensuring they have the skills to cope while the stress is occurring and afterwards, to regroup and rejuvenate so they’re ready to go back to work the next day and be a full person, and not get burnout or suffer from chronic fatigue of compassion.”
But as several ASU faculty can attest, the benefits of mindfulness extend to more than just medical students.
Barbara Crisp, an adjunct faculty member with The Design School, began teaching a mindfulness fundamentals course there a few semesters ago in which students hear from guest speakers and learn skills that range from breathing techniques to meditation to body scanning.
“I’m trying to give them a well-rounded approach to what mindfulness is and how it’s really important as a lifelong skill,” Crisp said.
During the second semester teaching the course, an error was made in the catalog that allowed students from any discipline to sign up.