As the bustle of the fall semester returns to campus, a handful of iconic Virginia Tech locations are helping Hokies slow down for a mindful moment

Mindful Campus Practices, created by Hokie Wellness, is made up of four spots across Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus:  one at each the Drillfield and Duck Pond and two at Hahn Garden. The spaces include QR codes to the roughly 5-minute guided meditations which encourage users to use their five senses to feel more grounded. The experience is also available on online.

“I think one of the misconceptions about self-care is that you need all this time to do it,” said Swathi Prabhu, Hokie Wellness’ Mental Health Initiatives coordinator. “Hopefully these spaces will help people realize it doesn’t have to be difficult to integrate a mindfulness practice into your day when you’re just walking across the Drillfield and going about your typical routines.”

Prabhu said mindfulness generally has three key themes - present-moment awareness, non-judgment, and acceptance – each of which could be helpful for students to practice as they return to campus.

“College is already a huge time of transition and uncertainty.  This fall, there is also the additional challenge of re-integrating back to in-person social and academic life,” Prabhu said. “It would certainly be beneficial for every student to be acquainted with those key themes of mindfulness as they navigate this time of change; however, it is also important that students have the opportunity to put these concepts into practice in an accessible way.”

Person sitting on bench and writing in a journal
Virginia Tech student Savannah Greene practices mindfulness and gratitude while journaling at one of her favorite spots on campus, the Duck Pond. Savannah is a Humanities for Public Service Major, as well as the Community Service Director for the Meraki Living-Learning Community. Photo by Christina Franusich for Virginia Tech.

For Savannah Greene, a junior studying humanity for public service, Mindful Campus Practices have helped her incorporate a mental wellness practice into her otherwise busy schedule.

“They’re very calming and they’re very efficient because of how short they are,” Greene said. “As college students, it’s sometimes hard to take a moment for yourself, so five minutes is so much more doable than 30 minutes, for example.”

A member of Meraki, a living-learning community (LLC) dedicated to well-being, Greene said she was introduced to mindfulness during a wellness lecture given by Prabhu.

“You realize how much more comfortable you can become by just focusing on yourself,” said Greene, who is also a part of Virginia Tech’s Mental Health Coalition. “And you begin to notice the life around you that you might not have noticed before.”

Avnee Raje, a sophomore studying neuroscience, had a similar experience. She said she’d found incorporating mindfulness practices helped ease her anxiety levels during the past academic year.

“Last year, with the pandemic and it being my first year at college, I struggled with anxiety and transition stuff happening really fast. And when I’m stressed and anxious, it just feels like the pressure everywhere around me is really high,” said Raje, who is also in the Meraki LLC. “Practicing mindfulness is just a way to ground yourself back to reality and learn to really listen to your body when things are happening lightning fast around you. Afterwards, I can just feel a whole energy shift, not just in me, but in the whole room."

person in garden
Swathi Prabhu, Mental Health Initiatives Coordinator for Hokie Wellness, sits under the cooling shade within Hahn Garden. Photo by Christina Franusich for Virginia Tech.

Videos for the Mindful Campus Practices were originally developed as a way for people to feel connected to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the project expanded to include meditations. Now that users have a greater ability to go to the physical locations, these practices allow for users to disconnect from their devices a bit more and simply use the audio portion of the meditations.

“We realized we had the opportunity to provide some literal grounding exercises with these videos,” Prabhu said. “Sometimes mindfulness can feel intimidating or inaccessible, but what’s great about the Mindful Campus Practices is that you don’t need any expertise in mediation or to purchase supplies like an app or yoga mat. You can simply tap into your own body, thoughts, and environment in a self-empowered way.”

The Mindful Campus Practice series is just one of numerous programs, events, and workshops Hokie Wellness and Virginia Tech offer that enable students to explore and improve their emotional well-being and mental health. Others included Hokies Wellness’ Koru Mindfulness and Meditation workshops and two student organizations: SKY Happiness Club and Conscious Collective.

Such offerings compliment the campus-wide mental awareness campaign, #VTBetterTogether, and align with Hokie Wellness’ mission of providing the entire Virginia Tech community with skills for a day-to-day approach to overall wellbeing.

“I think this helps do that in a brief, but meaningful way,” Prabhu said. “Hopefully these practices can help folks begin or continue thinking about ways they can care for themselves intentionally and holistically.”

Written by Travis Williams

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