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Feb. 2, 2012 Volume 33, No. 18

Meditation classes and programs offer ways to cope with stress

Lynn Rossy

Photo by Nic Benner CALMING MIND Health Psychologist Lynn Rossy has been studying how mindfulness relates to health for decades.


Professor helps people calm their minds

Try sitting and doing nothing. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The body squirms and the mind wanders through the Rolodex of life — yesterday’s events, today’s worries, tomorrow’s demands and all the things we should be doing rather than sitting and doing nothing.

MU health psychologist Lynn Rossy has spent most of her adult life exploring how many of us most of the time are on automatic mental pilot, relegating us to the control of our scattered thoughts and emotions.

Rossy teaches three weekly on-campus stress reduction meditation sessions and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program to help participants be present with their thoughts and emotions without being overwhelmed by them.

 “Meditation is about learning to be with what’s happening in your life in a new way that offers greater clarity,” Rossy said.

Meditation in America

Meditation strongly impacted American popular culture in the 1960s as more people began to explore Asian religions, such as Buddhism and Taoism, which teach mindfulness principles.

Over the decades, many American teachers have emphasized the psychology rather than the religious and cultural aspects of meditation, and researchers have extensively studied its physical and psychological benefits.

As a graduate student, Rossy began exploring mindfulness after learning about the techniques used in the Stress Reduction Program founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Rossy’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, which involves a series of classes and a retreat, follows Kabat-Zinn’s model.

Along with her three weekly meditation sessions and stress-reduction program, Rossy also incorporates mindfulness techniques in Eat for Life, a 10-week program to help people develop a more positive relationship toward food and their bodies.

In a time when traditional weight-loss programs are showing sketchy results — and 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children in America are obese, according to a report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a program like Rossy’s may deserve a second look.

“I don’t think diets are working very well,” Rossy said.  “Your body goes into starvation mode, and those that lose a lot of weight tend to gain it back quickly. Eat for Life is about changing one’s relationship with food in a sustainable way.”

Meditation in Heinkel

In the Heinkel Building recently, Rossy led eight people  — made up of faculty, staff and downtown workers — through a half-hour meditation class in which participants sat quietly around an oblong meeting desk.

Rossy gave simple, brief and intermittent instructions for bringing awareness to the sensations in the body and the breath as a way of connecting to the present. She acknowledged the tendency for the mind to wander. She suggested participants bring their minds back to the present every time they noticed they were lost in thought. 

But mostly there was silence during the session.

Denise Bike, a graduate student in counseling psychology, has been attending the classes for three years.

“It stops me in the middle of the day and helps me hit the re-set button to deal with the stress of the day,” Bike said.

Mike Onofrio, a 1979 MU graduate, has been part of Rossy’s classes for two years.

“My thoughts can be like a squirrel caged in my head,” Onofrio said. “Here, I concentrate on my breath, and my thoughts dissipate.”