The Graduate Student’s Guide to Mindfulness

Written by Susan Helmick, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate College 

be here now written on rock among other rocks and pebbles

The frenetic pace of grad school life rarely abates, but the Graduate College recently rolled out something pretty cool to help students find a way to create pockets of tranquility - a mindfulness workshop led by Meriden McGraw, Director of the UC Osher Center for Integrative Medicine's Mindfulness Team. The goal? To take mindfulness from the conceptual to the practical and give graduate students tools they can immediately use to cultivate relaxation, restore balance, and live healthier, happier, and more stress-free lives.

The promise of learning new techniques to unwind drew UC MBA online student Zack Williams to campus to participate on October 26th. But did the trip pay off? We caught up with Zack to hear whether mindfulness struck a chord with him and if what he learned made a difference in his routine.

Online MBA student Zack Williams in dark suit and tie

You’re an online student and came to campus for this event. Was there something specific that drew you to come and participate? How did you become interested?

The topic of mindfulness is fascinating to me and is something I want to continue learning about. The facilitator, Meriden McGraw, is an expert on the topic and I knew she would be able to provide helpful tips and best practices. I first heard about the event through a GradCurrents email and hoped to meet other graduate students who are interested in the topic.

Have you built any of the skills you learned into your routine?

I have been able to build on the skills taught during the event, particularly the calming breathing technique. By exhaling for twice as long as you inhale, you will instantly begin feeling calmer and more relaxed. This practice is highly efficient, as it only takes around 30 seconds to complete, making it easy to utilize every day. You can do it anytime and anywhere, and it doesn't interrupt anything you are currently doing.

Do you feel these techniques positively influence your overall mental and emotional well-being?

Mindfulness has improved my mental and emotional well-being; more than anything, it allows me to check in with myself and assess how I am doing. Too often I find that I am running around and not living in the moment, rather following my calendar for the day. Constantly practicing this makes it easier every day to incorporate into your routine and will eventually lead you to be better in tune with your mind and body without even trying.

Have you noticed any wider physical benefits from these techniques, such as changes in heart rate, muscle tension, or improved relaxation?

There has been a night and day difference in my physical health from practicing mindfulness. The breathing technique instantly relaxes me and helps me stay this way throughout the day. By using a brief body scan I can see how my body feels and notice sensations I hadn't noticed beforehand. From here I can take the next steps as needed, whether that means stretching, massaging my neck, or exercising.

Can you share any personal anecdotes or experiences that highlight the effects of these techniques, like breath awareness, on your stress levels or ability to manage stressors in your life?

Over the past few months there have been many unexpected stressors in my life, which led me to start my mindfulness journey. There were times I would experience rapid onsets of anxiety, and at first, I had no idea how to work through them. They would derail my day and set the tone for my week. As I learned more about mindfulness and the facts behind my experiences, it helped me realize I wasn't alone and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Working through these challenges and trying to grow as a person has been a surreal experience and taught me a lot about myself. Recently I have been opening up more about this journey to my friends, not knowing if they are aware of the practice, to find that a lot of them practice it themselves as well. This has led to many great conversations and closer relationships with my friends.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to mindfulness meditation and is interested in using breathing techniques to get started?

My advice to anyone who wants to get started with the practice is to simply try anything once. If you have never meditated before, find a video online and give it a shot for 5-10 minutes. Set a reminder for as little as 30 seconds in your schedule to try a breathing technique or body scan to check in on your body and relax. It will probably feel weird at first and you may not be very good at it, but THAT IS OK! As with most things, you get out of mindfulness what you put into it. I hope that you are able to give mindfulness a shot and start feeling the benefits that come with it, it has truly helped me and has been seamlessly integrated into my daily routine.

Curious about mindfulness? Be sure to check out the Osher Center for Integrative Health, GradCurrents and GetInvolvedUC for all the latest mental health and wellness event opportunities and workshops.