Colorado State University’s Margit Hentschel (left) and Deb Colbert have proposed creating a center for mindfulness to improve students’ ability to concentrate, study and reduce stress. Photo
by Jonathan Castner
FORT COLLINS – Colorado State University faculty members want to start a Center for Mindfulness, an institution they say would be the first of its kind at a public university in Colorado.
The CSU Center for Mindfulness (C4M) would promote overall well-being in students through practices such as meditation, education and innovative research. Faculty members hope the center will help reduce students’ stress and improve their capacity to learn.
In Colorado, several higher-learning institutions offer mindfulness classes, but only Naropa University in Boulder has a similar kind of center in Colorado, the CSU center’s co-founders said. Nationwide, however, CSU would join a growing number of public universities that have launched mindfulness programs.
Mindfulness is a way of thinking that espouses focusing on being aware of the present, especially through breathing techniques. Mindfulness can improve the ability to concentrate and control emotions as well as help people gain confidence and grow spiritually, according to the center’s co-founders Margit Hentschel and Debora Colbert, who started working on the proposal last summer.
At the core of mindfulness is the practice of meditation, a centuries-old breathing exercise that helps settle the nerves.
“We have so many things going on in our lives that sometimes it’s hard to focus on the here and now,” said Colbert, director of CSU’s Institute for Learning and Teaching. “Just a simple, five-minute guided meditation … can really help you focus.”
Mindfulness is sometimes associated with Eastern religions such as Buddhism, but Hentschel and Colbert insisted the center will be secular. Mindfulness could help students prepare for the challenges of the workplace, Colbert and Hentschel said.
Indeed, mindfulness training can help employees deal with workplace pressures by helping them realize the irrationality of their fear, which causes them stress, said Larry Cappel, a licensed psychotherapist in Denver.
“When we are calmer and less reactive, we work better together,” he said.
A common myth is that people need to feel stressed to accomplish work tasks, he said. In fact, Cappel said, stress can cause memory loss and unhealthy levels of anxiety.
“There’s a certain level of stress that can be helpful,” he said. “Too much stress and you screw everything up.”
Faculty members will pitch their proposal in May to CSU’s Faculty Council, an academic-affairs policy-making group at the university. If council members approve, the center will start this fall at the Institute for Learning and Teaching. The center would have an advisory board with members that hold two-year terms.
The center would take a three-pronged approach to mindfulness, according to Hentschel, director of service-learning for the Institute for Learning and Teaching.
- The center would help introduce mindful teaching practices that interested professors could use in the classroom. Research shows that mindfulness helps learning by enhancing mental focus and emotional development.
- Second, faculty members involved at the center will conduct research on various techniques and practices and whether they improve quality of life, including health.
- Finally, the center will promote mindfulness through workshops, events and trainings with businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and the general public. The goal of this kind of service to the community includes preventing suicide, healing trauma and reducing stress.
- Faculty members, for example, could work with police departments to lower stress levels among officers through mindfulness techniques.
- Dan Dworkin, a Fort Collins Police Department psychologist, said police departments nationwide have adopted mindfulness techniques, adding that he would like to explore the idea in greater detail.
- Hentschel said she hopes to see whether police officers or firefighters could undergo a few weeks of training to improve their well-being. Research has shown that mindfulness training in police officers can reduce suicide rates, she said.
- Communitywide, she said, “we could find places where there’s synergy and be more collaborative.”
Steve Lynn can be reached at 970-232-3147 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevelynnncbr.