Vicky Klukkert: On the Bright Side: Meditation room gives SUNY Oneonta space to unwind

·4 min read

Feb. 26—A new meditation room on the SUNY Oneonta campus has opened, the college has announced.

The room will give students and employees a place to go to escape the pressure for a while and just breathe, a media release said. The meditation room, located in Lee Hall, is designed to encourage mindfulness. It's a place where campus community members can engage in yoga, practice meditation, even try out some aromatherapy and "sound bathing," all with one objective: prioritizing mental health.

SUNY Oneonta Health Educator Rebecca Harrington said a group of faculty, who were also members of the Oneonta Mindfulness Initiative, approached the college in 2019 and asked for a space on campus. She said the college's committee on space met and found a room, which was an old computer lab, in Lee Hall. The COVID-19 pandemic hit a few months later and no one was on campus, she said.

When Harrington returned to campus in August 2020, she teamed up with Bharath Ramkumar, assistant professor of fashion and textiles and another member of the Oneonta Mindfulness Initiative, and created weekly online meditation classes for students, she said. Ramkumar also begins each class by leading his students in a five-minute meditation, encouraging them to focus on their breath and positive affirmations for the day, the release said. The practice has been so successful that he is planning to publish a study on the topic and is helping other professors on campus incorporate meditation into their classrooms.

Harrington said when she got to campus in the fall of 2021, she was asked how she wanted the meditation room to look, and the maintenance department told her every shade of paint that was available for to choose from could be found in Netzer Hall.

"I walked from one end of Netzer Hall to the other to find the shade of blue I wanted," she said. "It's amazing how one coat of color can transform the room. It went from stark white to a calming blue."

She said she asked others on the committee what they thought was needed in the meditation room. She said there are 11 trees, a water fountain and a windchime in the room and a sound system will be installed, which will broadcast calming nature sounds. She said she hopes to record the nature sounds of Oneonta during the different seasons.

The room has only been open for a short time, but she said everyone who enters the room says they feel transformed when they walk through the door. "You can see them sigh and their shoulders come down. There is an abundance of natural light coming through the windows. It's in a part of the campus where you can look out at the trees and watch deer walk by."

She said the room, which is only accessed via a key card, is open for students, faculty and staff on a limited basis currently, but should be open noon to 6 p.m. shortly. As the semester progresses, Harrington hopes to be able to plan guided meditation times and allow campus groups to reserve the meditation room, the release said. One of her interns, Christina Sciavo, is working on creating an app that people can access to reserve the room, she said. The room will be staffed by someone who will help guide people through different meditation techniques to help reduce stress.

"We train our brain to be busy," Harrington said. This can be detrimental when trying to fall asleep and at other times during the day, she said.

She explained by focusing on inhaling and exhaling, one can reduce stress and quiet the mind. She said people who don't get the meditation techniques down the first couple of times they try it shouldn't give up and say they're not good at it. "It takes practice."

In addition to helping with stress, meditation is known to relieve other common mental health conditions among college students, such as exam anxiety, and improve academic performance by boosting focus and concentration and improving short-term memory, the release said.

To learn more about the Oneonta Mindfulness Initiative and try out a free guided meditation, visit tinyurl.com/2p8uunk3

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_VickyK on Twitter.