After 11 years in the Army, Roger Mancastroppa, the associate director of the Academic Skills Center, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His hypervigilance, a state of increased alertness and sensitivity to surroundings, made it challenging for him to be in crowded public places.
“I couldn’t sit in a restaurant without having my back to the wall,” he said. “I used to know how many cameras were on the ceiling and which doors were the quickest exits to get out of.”
This all changed when a friend helped him readjust to normal society and work on his hypervigilance through practicing meditation.
“He said there were three ways to change your brain chemistry," Mancastroppa said. "You can exercise, which I was already doing, you can take the drugs, which I had no interest in doing and there is this thing called meditation.”
Now, after 15 years of steady and daily practice, his hypervigilance is gone. His mindfulness has also made him a better listener.
Mancastroppa is a leader of Mindful Mondays, a group that meets every week at noon to enhance practice of meditation and create a more mindful community.
Senior Chiara Solitario has been a steady participant of Mindful Mondays for two years.
“It definitely takes a bit of practice but it has helped me so much throughout my college career,” she said. “I am so lucky that I found it freshman year."
Richmond currently offers six programs to students centered on mindfulness and be accepting of thoughts and feelings: Mindful Mondays, Kairos Contemplative Service, Dean’s Zen, Midday Prayer, Thoughtful Thursdays and Zen Meditation.
Peter LeViness, director of counseling and psychological services (CAPS), believes that mindfulness can help college students in several ways.
“I see it as a mental muscle that a lot of us have not exercised much,” he said. “The best moments in life you want to be present for, can you imagine your mind being elsewhere during the moment?”
Solitario explained how practicing mindfulness helps her amidst her busy life as a college student.
"It has helped me be centered and live with intention," she said. "I am very appreciative of the practice I have now.”
LeViness believes people in the United States spend too much time dwelling on the past or thinking and worrying about the future instead of living fully in the present moment.
“In the mental health realm, it is something I would advise people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, ADD, stress, to partake in mindfulness,” he said.
Dean Joe Boehman created Dean’s Zen, a group that meets on Wednesdays for mid-week mindfulness. Boehman and his staff believe that in the midst of society's emphasis on being busy, students need time and space to meditate.
“The other piece of it is that it can ward off anxiety, it can help you maintain your focus when it comes toward studies and just have a better self of calm as you go about your day,” Boehman said.
Boehman thinks that students, similar to Solitario, are seeing the connection that mental health and spiritual health have on their overall well-being.
“Just like we hope our students are eating well and studying well and going to the gym and taking care of their sleep, we think that putting in the sense of mindfulness could be equally helpful to their overall success,” he said.
Contact features contributor Amanda Corbosiero at firstname.lastname@example.org.