“If you want your students to know more about mindfulness as a part of health, you’ll have to help your faculty and staff to know about mindfulness too. That’s how your wellness culture will change.”

That’s what Rip Gellein ’69 told Vice President for Student Development Laurel Kennedy in an April 2018 conversation about mindfulness. Gellein is on the Board of the Mind & Life Institute and has practiced meditation for many years. Between these bona fides and his reputation for leadership in times of organizational change, Kennedy was eager for his advice about incorporating mindfulness into learning opportunities for faculty at Denison.

Faculty already are doing significant work in the area of meditation and mindfulness, whether as a part of their teaching, their support of student research, or their own personal practice — and a series of conversation indicated there is a strong interest in learning more. One outcome of these conversations was a class in mindfulness offered in Fall 2019 for faculty and staff, taught by Sylvie Lestrade Graff. Graff is a certified teacher of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and a Dance Movement Therapist who divides her time between Columbus, Ohio and France.

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction is an evidence-based, secular meditation program taught over eight weeks. The program uses a curriculum crafted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed MBSR at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s, in an effort to promote wellness and increase the ability to manage distress and pain.

Beginning in late October 2019, about 30 members of the faculty, administration, and supportive operating staff met weekly to learn and practice mindfulness. Classes met on Saturday mornings in the Knapp Amphitheater (although some participants attended classes at a studio space in Columbus). An essential part of MBSR training is a day-long silent retreat, conducted at a historic log cabin in the heart of Columbus.

Weekly classes wove together mindfulness meditation, body scans, and yoga. Class reflections sometimes center on poetry, like this poem by Mary Oliver, read by Cheryl Kennedy McFarrin, a faculty member in theater and a member of the MBSR class.

Faculty found the MBSR classes to be enriching in their personal lives, their professional development and in their interactions with students in and out of the classroom.

President Adam Weinberg has been practicing mindfulness for over 15 years and serves as Denison’s best model of how mindfulness improves the ability to focus. Those who practice mindfulness often say they experience increased self-compassion and equanimity as well. Clinical studies have established that mindfulness practices can improve the ability to manage stress and the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The MBSR class taught to Denison faculty and staff is part of the larger Mindful Denison initiative, which has been led by Mindfulness Coordinator in Residence Linnea Pyne. The initiative includes classes designed specifically for college students, exploring the impact of mindfulness in athletics, special events (such as the October 2019 Day of Mindfulness), and support for both formal and informal practices.

Faculty Responses to the MBSR Training

December 22, 2019