Loughborough’s ‘mindfulness’ programme a hit with other universities

A Loughborough University mindfulness meditation programme aimed at de-stressing students with specific learning differences (SpLDs) has attracted interest from other academic institutions.

Loughborough are thought to be the first to introduce a ‘Mindfulness for Study Programme’ which anecdotal evidence suggests helps to improve students’ grades and drop-out rates.

Four universities, a college and a school, have asked Loughborough to help them put together a similar programme which has been adapted from a mindfulness programme for adults with ADHD.

Based on centuries-old Buddhist meditation practices and breathing exercises, mindfulness has been embraced by many organisations, from Google, to Transport for London to the Home Office.

Loughborough’s weekly, eight step programme was started in November by Dr Karisa Krcmar and specialist tutor Tina Horsman and proved so successful that they intend to make it an annual event.

“It has helped students, from those in the first year to ones doing PhDs, to focus their minds, to get on with their work and not procrastinate or panic,” said Dr Krcmar, Senior Specialist Tutor for Students with SpLD in the Study Support Service.

“One of the students said it was the best thing he had done at university all year. Students said they would have liked to have continued to meet over exam time to practise what they had learned.

“They felt they benefited from a safe environment to explore their specific learning differences.

“One of the benefits most frequently cited was that they were able to approach their work in a calmer, less stressed and more productive way.”

Mindfulness draws on the breathing exercises used in meditation and yoga and aims to make people more aware of thoughts and feelings, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them they can manage them.

It trains people to focus on the moment rather than allowing their attention to be hi-jacked by thoughts, worries, and modern distractions like Facebook, emails, and mobile phones.

The Mindfulness for Study programme helps students with SpLDs like dyslexia and dyspraxia to avoid procrastination and develop effective study skills. It helps them to prioritise, sustain and complete study tasks and there is a session on revision and exam skills.

Breathing, listening and body awareness are the three anchors of mindfulness and the tutors gave the students pictures of anchors to hold as a way of reminding them.

Tina said: “There are so many things demanding their attention and distracting them from what they need to be concentrating on.

“The techniques we put in place allowed them to acknowledge they were doing something they shouldn’t be doing and refocus and bring their mind back to, say, the essay that needs to be handed in tomorrow.”

The specialist tutors adapted the programme from a book called The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD, by Lidia Zylowska, after Dr Krcmar had talked to the American psychiatrist.

The programme attracted 17 students from a wide range of disciplines, from engineering and IT to geography and fine art. There was an even split between men and women and the ages ranged from 18 to 50, although most were under 21.

The tutors are now looking at developing a Mindfulness for Study book and one-day Continuous Professional Development events to train others how to stage a course.

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