Meditation and Mindfulness for Students and Staff at Rutgers

by Janine Warner

Dr. Siobhan Gibbons says all are welcome to participate in her Mindfulness Meditation sessions. No previous experience is required.

Gibbons is a staff psychologist for Rutgers University’s Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services (CAPS). She runs a meditation program called Mindfulness Meditation that is open to all students, faculty, and staff at no cost.

She holds sessions every Tuesday in Busch Campus Center Room 122 A, every Wednesday in the Rutgers Student Activities Center Conference Room on George Street, and every Thursday in Douglass Campus Center Room C. All sessions are held from noon to 1 p.m.

She began the Mindfulness Meditation program five years ago on Douglass Campus and has since expanded it to the Busch and College Avenue campuses.

Most meditation practices, including Gibbons’, are designed to help reduce stress and increase calmness.

Gibbons begins each session by defining both mindfulness and meditation.

“Mindfulness is the caring, compassionate, non-judgmental awareness of our own experience and meditation is the exercises and practices that enable us to develop these skills of awareness and compassion,” she said.

Then, she leads the participants in meditation. She starts with the same two basic exercises each session.

The goal of the first exercise is to establish a basic awareness of one’s own breath.

“When doing the first exercise, I encourage my students to choose a specific physical aspect of breathing, whether it is the air going through their nostrils or their chest rising and falling, to help them really focus,” Gibbons said.

The goal of the second exercise is to establish an awareness of a particular word or phrase. Before the exercise begins, each participant must choose an abstract word or phrase that evokes a sense of happiness or calmness.

“During the second exercise, students can either say their word or phrase over and over again in their heads, they can picture it written out in letters, or they can let the specific feeling it creates take over their minds,” she said.

The first two exercises are each five minutes long.

The goal of these exercises is not to ignore or push away any drifting thoughts. Instead, the goal is for students to acknowledge these thoughts and then gently bring their attention back to their breathing or their particular word or phrase.

“It is inevitable for the mind to wander, and that is not a bad thing,” said Gibbons.

She then finishes the session with a third, longer exercise that is different each week. This exercise typically lasts about 10-15 minutes.

“The last exercise can be a variety of meditations,” she said. “We have done an eating meditation and a walking meditation. We have dealt with body awareness and sounds and noises. We have done mindful movement, which is similar to yoga.”

Gibbons urges her students to practice, practice, practice. “Meditation is simple,” she said, “but it is definitely not easy.”

Bakhtawar Ahmad, a sophomore at Rutgers University, heard about Gibbons’ program through a friend.

Ahmad is new to the sessions, as well as to meditation in general.

“When I attended my first session, I had never done anything like this before,” Ahmad said. Dr. Gibbons is extremely helpful – she also has a soothing voice that I very much enjoy hearing.”

Ahmad’s favorite exercise is the second one, in which she chooses a positive word or phrase to focus on. “During this exercise, I feel at ease both physically and mentally.”

Ahmad intends to take Gibbons’ advice and practice meditation both at home and during the sessions.

“Mindfulness Meditation gives me something to look forward to each week,” said Ahmad. “Overall, it’s a positive and rewarding experience that can only get better from here,”