Waiting to exhale at college meditation sessions

Counselling centre runs weekly event to help students and staff handle stress

It’s nearly the end of another school semester, and that means it’s also a time of intense deadlines and preparation for final exams.

While most young people resign themselves to a month of caffeine consumption and all-nighters, things are a little different at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre campus in East York. Here, stressed-out students – and their teachers — can attend meditation sessions every Tuesday from 3:30-4 p.m. at the campus’s fitness centre.

The program was the brainchild of campus counsellor Svetlana Lilova, who hopes it will provide a means for students and faculty to de-stress and calm their minds.

“This activity is a means for students and staff to have a brief moment in the week to put everything down and re-focus on a bigger perspective instead of being hooked on to our individual concerns,” she said.

According to Lilova, research shows that regular meditation — especially when done for 45 days consecutively – actually changes the structure of the brain.

“Meditation is a practice. We are teaching ourselves a different stance in life, a different way of perceiving our issues and ourselves,” she said. “It is a practice in the sense of gaining a better perspective of understanding how we function and observing what happens for us, rather than getting caught up in a particular issue.”

In addition to meditating on a regular basis, doing so in a group can also be of benefit. The usual meditation session starts with everybody gathering together at the gym, sitting on mats and closing their eyes. Lilova, who hosts the sessions, brings a Tibetan bowl that she sometimes invites students to tap with a handle.

“This sound can become a focal point,” she explained. “The benefit to this is that we are collectively together and it can become a more focused experience, whereas when a person is alone…he can be easily distracted.”

Apart from the drop-in meditation sessions, the centre hosts a ‘Tea with the Counsellor’ event Wednesdays from 12:30 1:15 p.m. where Lilova serves tea in the hallways or the lobby. The sessions allow students and staff to take a mini-break and chat with the counsellors, while raising awareness about the counselling services that are available on campus.

“Somehow, that kind of brief tea and moment of chit-chat becomes a prompt for students to make an appointment,” Lilova said. “They have been sitting on issues that are difficult or encountering me in the hall and the tea finally serves as a way of prompting them to make an appointment.”

The counselling centre offers other initiatives such as the ‘Paws Your Stress’ event happening on April 7 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Therapeutic dogs will be brought in for students to pet and play with as a way to lower their stress levels. This event will be happening at all Centennial College campuses.