Koru Mindfulness Offers Manhattan College Students An Alternative Way to Cope with Stress During the Pandemic

by, Kiersten Thompson, Contributor

Koru Mindfulness, a program designed to equip college students with the skills to manage stress, is helping Manhattan College students during the pandemic.

Koru Mindfulness stems from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and is an eight-week program that aims to teach mindfulness skills and tools along with meditation practices. Koru Mindfulness splits this eight-week program into two four-week sections to make it more accessible to college students. The first half incorporates techniques like belly and dynamic breathing, body scan and walking meditation. The second half involves chair yoga and silent meditation.

Nicol Zambrano, a licensed mental health counselor and assistant director at the counseling center, took an eight-week MBSR course and later decided to pursue certification as an instructor in Koru Mindfulness, bringing it to MC. As she described, she takes her “therapy hat” off when leading the Koru Mindfulness classes.

In the classes participants practice mindfulness and meditation techniques, some of which are unconventional like eating meditation, which involves allowing food to sit in one’s mouth while focusing on the texture and taste of the food and chewing several times. The techniques learned in the mindfulness classes are aimed to help one focus on the present and can help with sleep, stress and focus. These skills can be especially helpful for those facing increased stress due to the pandemic.

“Mindfulness itself helps with stress reduction, improved sleep, better ability to focus, just more awareness of yourself and your reactions and how stress affects you,” Zambrano said. “In a time where like, we don’t feel like we have a lot of control over a lot of things and that a lot of our freedom has been taken away and we’re sort of forced to do certain things, recognizing that you can control how you feel in the moment, by breathing, by being present, by having gratitude, those are the kinds of things that we incorporate.”

Cal Lepkowski, a sophomore communications major, first learned of the Koru Mindfulness classes through the daily MC announcements and joined in fall 2019, when classes were still in-person. The skills he learned in the mindfulness classes help him deal with stress as a resident assistant during the pandemic.

“I’m also a resident assistant, so it’s been a little bit stressful to kind of relay information that we hear from, from our staff and relay onto our residents,” Lepkowski said. “Obviously they can find that frustrating or even unfair to an extent but even in this type of environment with [the] quorum, just remaining calm is some of the most powerful things you can do.”

Zachary Olivan, an exercise science major, also started doing Koru Mindfulness in fall 2019. The mindfulness techniques helped Olivan change his perspective to focusing on the positive in life. Shifting his perspective using mindfulness techniques helped equip Olivan with the mindset to deal with stress during the pandemic and grow as a person.

“I wasn’t as stressed because I was able to look at situations and things in my environment, objectively and subjectively, I was able to just kind of go with the flow easier and adapt to change more,” Olivan said. “Koru Mindfulness trained me to some extent, to accept the pandemic for what it was and to not complain, and to be patient with it, that sort of thing. I feel like I’m more grounded in my approach to life. I feel like I have a more positive outlook, and I see each day differently than when I used to… I was always, I always had a good head on my shoulders but I think now after taking Koru I have a more aware, more of an awareness of who I am as a person.”

Koru Mindfulness is an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program that is helping students and faculty amid the pandemic. Through meditation techniques, one can reduce stress, improve sleep and focus, and ultimately quell pandemic-induced anxiety. NICOL ZAMBRANO / COURTESY

The mindfulness classes switched from in-person to online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Zambrano, the class structure has not been negatively affected due to the new virtual format and the online format makes it easier to attend the classes. However, she acknowledged that there might be potential downsides to the online classes.

“The one thing I think that has been negatively impacted is just the face to face and also the fact that like, I know that students are on a computer all day, you know, they’re in front of a screen, and it’s tiring,” Zambrano said.

Lepkowski, while acknowledging the lack of in-person interaction, thinks that the online classes have their own benefit.

“There’s obviously a little less interaction in virtual classes, but Nicol does a great job in explaining the types of meditations that you do and it allows you to practice in an environment that you’re comfortable with, so there are offsets to both locations of the classes,” Lepkowski said.

For Olivan, the virtual classes are much different from the in-person classes and some aspects of the class are better experienced in an in-person environment.

“Virtually was so different,” Olivan said. “When we are in person like there’s different kinds of techniques like walking meditation, and eating meditation, for example, where, you know, those kinds of things in person made the experience better because you’re able to connect with people like more tangibly, they’re right next to you as you’re doing it…virtually I kind of felt like I was on my own. Even though we do have discussions, virtually, like we will share our thoughts and our feelings on how the meditation session went and things like that, I’m just an in-person kind of guy, but it’s not better or worse, it’s just, it’s just different.”

Anyone can be certified in Koru Mindfulness and it can be applied to various areas. Olivan, who is the manager of the baseball team, thinks every student, and in particular, athletes, would benefit from participating in the mindfulness classes. He even wants to introduce mindfulness to the baseball players at MC.

The Koru Mindfulness classes for the Spring semester take place every Monday from March 22 to April 12 for students. There are also classes available for MC faculty, staff and administrators every Wednesday from March 24 to April 14.

The counseling center at MC has many resources and programs to help students with their issues and concerns as well as programs particularly equipped to deal with issues related to the pandemic.

“People are hesitant about going to the counseling center,” Lepkowski said. “They should just go for it because I won’t lie, I was hesitant about asking, and the benefits… that they’ve done for me and the stuff they’ve helped me with is endless, so I’m very grateful for them, and just recommend students if they’re feeling down, there’s going to be tough times to, to reach out to them.”