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Sept. 1, 2010 Volume 32, No. 2

Got stress? A ‘mindful’ approach could be just what the doctor ordered


Growing body of research shows benefits of meditation and yoga

Every hour, prompted by a soft chime from her computer, Lynn Rossy pauses and turns her attention to that simplest of human acts — breathing.

Rossy, a health psychologist with the T.E. Atkins UM Wellness Program, has been known to spend a week in silent retreat. But it’s these brief respites, lasting no more than a few minutes at a time, that help her maintain a commitment to the ancient practice of meditation.

“Like anything else, if you practice and do it consistently you will reap the benefits, and if you don’t you’re not going to have as many benefits,” Rossy says. “And of course the more you practice the more benefits you’re going to get.”

Rossy has been preaching the benefits of mediation at MU since 2004, when she began the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program for faculty and staff. The fall 2010 program — an eight-week series of two-hour classes — begins Sept. 14 with an orientation session. The classes, which begin at 5:30 p.m., are every Tuesday, from Sept 21 through Nov. 9. in Memorial Union.

A combination of meditation and yoga, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MSBR, was developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Training in MBSR is now offered in hospitals and clinics around the world, and the techniques are used by groups as diverse as corporate CEOs, prison inmates and professional athletes.

Psychologists have long known that the mind has a significant influence on the body and that unconscious thoughts and behaviors can undermine physical health. In her office in the Heinkel Building, Rossy maintains a bibliography — it’s reached 113 pages — of research that suggests meditation can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and reduce stress.

That should come as good news to the 77 percent of university employees who reported at last fall’s wellness fair that stress was affecting their health.

“It’s certainly a test of our good humor to have more and more responsibility and no more time,” Rossy says. “Anything you can do to beef up your skills at dealing with these stressors is going to benefit you in the short run and the long term.”

Robert Weagley, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Personal Financial Planning, took Rossy’s class this summer. Weagler, who has suffered from back pain and the effects of arthritis in recent years, says he practiced meditation in the 1980s and figured the MBSR program would be a good refresher. The low-intensity yoga has helped his lower back, he says, while the meditation has made it easier to cope with the demands of his job and life.

“Taking the time to meditate in the morning, after I work out or walk, has reduced my stress level, improved my sleep patterns and helped me refocus on people – students, colleagues, family – when communicating,” Weagler says. “That is extremely valuable to me.”

Rossy demands a serious commitment from her students. In addition to the weekly classes, a full-day retreat is scheduled, and she expects students to practice the MBSR techniques, using the CDs and study materials she provides, for 30 to 45 minutes each day. 

I tell people, ‘Let me clear this up right away. I’m not going to reduce any of the stress in your life,’” Rossy says. “At the end of eight weeks, you’re going to have the same amount of stress you had when you walked in here. You’ll just learn how to deal with it differently.”