#Take5 #14: The best way to SLOW down and focus?

Close your eyes and relax…

Sam Aston and Helena Ross from The University of Manchester, have been focussing on wellbeing and meditation to help students calm down, relax and focus. Here in this #Take5 blogpost they share their techniques and strategies – and invite us to share our practices with them.

Sam Aston is a Teaching and Learning Librarian working in the Learning Development Team at the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons at The University of Manchester Library. She works on My Learning Essentials to deliver skills support and is currently applying for senior fellowship of the HEA and conducting a research project on academic skills expectations of transition students as they move into HE. You can find her on Twitter @manclibrarian

Helena Ross is a full time student studying sociology at Manchester and is a member of the student team the Library employs. The team work on a number of different projects alongside permanent staff, examples of this are collecting survey data from students, recording podcasts for My Learning Essentials and assisting with events across the Library to name a few.  

Close your eyes and relax…

In response to recent talk about the value of slowing students down to allow them to rest and reflect, we thought about what we do to support students here at the University of Manchester Library. Wellbeing features strongly as a strand within My Learning Essentials (MLE) programme of skills. MLE works with partners in The University’s Counselling Service to deliver sessions as part of the overall development programme. Throughout the year Counselling delivers sessions entitled ‘Calm your brain/learn to concentrate’, ‘Making the most of your mind’ and ‘Challenging unhelpful thinking habits’ and they are well attended.

This week, exams have started at The University of Manchester. Students are feeling the pressure building up to perform to the best of their abilities and this can distort their focus. During the exam period we dedicate more time to the pastoral care of our students, offering ‘Calm your brain and have a croissant’ sessions, acknowledging the fact that we operate in a 24-hour building and that students should have breakfast to get themselves off to the best start.

During this time we will often ask students to sit and meditate at the beginning of the workshops that we facilitate. For three to four minutes we ask the students to close their eyes and to focus on nothing but their breathing whilst relaxing their bodies. Students have responded well to this, and, though they look a little surprised, when asked they usually join in.

Another way that we promote mindfulness is using the MUSE headbands (http://www.choosemuse.com/) which are a helpful way to teach mindfulness meditation techniques. They allow you to work through progressively more challenging exercises at your own pace and record your progress, helping to build confidence and gain a better understanding of how to calm your brain.

While the headbands and iPads are an exciting showcase of the new technology that students can access through the Learning Commons, with practice students can use the meditation exercises they teach independently, whenever they need. While headbands allow students to practise the techniques and give a better understanding of how mindfulness helps the brain, the meditation exercises themselves can be beneficial in all kinds of situations from sleeping soundly to gathering your thoughts in an exam. Most of the exercises are only a couple of minutes long, making them a suitable choice for students who don’t feel as if they have the time to attend a full-length meditation session (these people are also likely to be those in most need of relaxation techniques!) and can even fit into the short breaks recommended for productivity by techniques such as Pomodoro.

There is no one ‘type’ of student who will particularly benefit from MUSE or the meditation workshops – after all, stress is one of the most universal issues that students deal with in university. Short mindfulness breaks can be just as useful in helping students who are disorganised and who struggle with procrastination as they can be in encouraging those who overwork themselves to take time out when they need it! 

We are sure that there is more that we could be doing and we would be really interested to hear from others about their approaches to supporting the wellbeing of students or staff.

 

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