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Students meditate their way out of stress and exam anxiety

Namaste — A group of students are facing up to the challenge of stress and are meeting regularly to work with their minds. At the meditation community at UCPH they have no hocus pocus, no dogmas and no commercial interests.

Stress, anxiety, and depressions dominate at universities and even star students can be suddenly sidelined. But members of this stressed generation are coming up with initiatives on their own to improve the well-being of their fellow students.

One of them is Meditationsfællesskabet på KU that for a year now has met for monthly discussion and meditation evenings.

The Meditationsfælleskabet group

The aim is to disseminate knowledge about meditation and improve students’ well-being

Meets every month in the psychology student room Dræberkaninen on CSS

Is open to anyone who is interested, irrespective of study programme and experience

“The starting point for the community Meditationsfællesskabet is to introduce meditation as a stress reduction tool to other students and offer a non-binding community where we together can explore the meditative practice.”

This is according to Daniel Jordanov, a psychology student, and one of the founders of the community. He knows how difficult it can be to keep your head above water at the university.

No hocus pocus

“We strive to stay away from all the hocus pocus, all the gurus, commercial interests, faith-based religions, and any kind of dogmatics.”

This is how the meditation community describes itself on its Facebook group, which has over 300 students as members. The community should be open to everyone, irrespective of their experience and beliefs. And the approach to meditation is scientific,” says Daniel Jordanov:

Meditation can lead to peace, balance, focus, and a sort of control over unruly thoughts and feelings.

Daniel Jordanov, co-founder of the Meditationsfælleskabet community at UCPH

“This means that we do not meet in a religious context, but appreciate things like mindfulness and its scientific results, and examine different Eastern traditions of wisdom on an academic basis.”

For the founders, this makes sense at a time when mindfulness has become an accepted part of psychology and therapy. Meditation is no longer just an exotic practice that some Buddhists or Hindus practice far away in the Far East. It has become mainstream.

“Meditation deals with something as natural as breathing. An innate ability which precedes any belief or conviction. How we breathe has a significant impact on our body and psyche. I think this a very general concern, and something you can easily take on with a scientific approach,” says Daniel.

Safe space without stress

In fact, meditation has become a proven tool to lower stress levels. This is reflected, for example, in the course catalogues at most workplaces, which are packed with mindfulness.

And Daniel Jordanov noticed this last year. As part of the psychology programme, he was selected as a student therapist on a clinical practice class on mindfulness in therapy and was allowed to counsel one volunteer student via the student counselling service. The results were convincing:

“It was a truly eye-opening way to work with therapy for me. Through the course of five to seven minutes, we had made a radical and positive transformation in the client’s mood and heart rate. It was an experience that testified to the great potential of meditation for change.”

We live in a neuro-age. People respect science, and if you can prove that an activity can be measured in the brain, then we are more likely to try it out.
Daniel Jordanov, co-founder of the Meditationsfælleskabet community at UCPH

Daniel Jordanov tailored a guided meditation to another student by taking as his point of departure something meaningful for the patient, namely his own narrative. And this had an effect.

He has, therefore, no doubts in his own mind that mindfulness and meditation has a large scientific potential. He and his co-founders want to explore it in a way that ordinary people can understand:

“We live in a neuro-age. People respect science, and if you can prove that an activity can be measured in the brain, then we are more likely to try it out. Research has shown that meditation both increases the ability to concentrate and has a calming effect on the nervous system. It can be difficult to access practices that are 2,500 years old and embedded in mythological writings. So the scientific approach complements these practices with a way of understanding and practising meditation which modern people can more easier relate to.”

14 years of experience

It is no coincidence that Daniel Jordanov decided to go into the meditation business. Like his two other co-founders, he is neither a guru nor an associate professor, but has extensive practical experience in the field:

“At the age of 18 ‘I saw the light’ and converted to Buddhism together with my mother. I was a hardcore practitioner for four years, verging on fanaticism. Suddenly I was hit by an existential crisis. The radical lifestyle was too overwhelming and I decided to step out of the religion. Since then, I spent most of my twenties being philosophically confused. But even though I could no longer associate myself with Buddhist principles, I couldn’t let go of the meditation. This did something special,” says Daniel.

The now 32-year-old psychology student did not let it go. But it took Daniel a long time to get a proper meditation routine going. And when he got the meditation dialled in, it gave him something that he and many students may need today:

“Meditation can lead to peace, balance, focus, and a sort of control over unruly thoughts and feelings. For me it’s also about contacting an inner authenticity: To return to an honest and down-to-earth sense of being, when I feel that my mind is about to lose itself in the world,” he says.

Being together

The Meditationsfællesskabet community has also been inspired by the Buddhist approach to meditation, where the community – sangha – plays a special role. Apart from meditating and studying old writings, you do your meditating in common in Buddhism. And there’s a reason for this:

“Meditation is all about getting rid of negative thoughts and feelings. It can therefore be difficult to meditate alone. This is because you, in silence, face yourself exactly as you are right now. And if your mental and emotional state is not that comfortable, then it is often easy to be distracted. This process can become a bit easier when you do it with the support of others,” says Daniel Jordanov.

Meditation deals with something as natural as breathing.
Daniel Jordanov, co-founder of the ‘Meditationsfælleskabet’ community at UCPH

According to Daniel, this applies to everyone who meditates. Even as a very experienced meditator, the meditation evenings make him a ‘better’ meditator:

“Even though I have just over 14 years of experience in the meditation business, the Buddhists urge people to enter upon a practice with a beginner’s mindset. This means that you should be careful not to be arrogant in your practice, but maintain a curious and open mind. There is always something new to learn. Even from people with less experience,” he says. And here, the community is an essential part of the exercise.

Canadian gurus and meditation apps

Things are moving for the meditation group. In October, the Canadian monk Dada Krsnasevananda, who is also a yoga and meditation instructor, was here to talk about chanting and yoga. And it was interesting to get hold of a self-proclaimed expert who could talk about his practices in an informal way, Daniel Jordanov explains.

Meditation is all about getting rid of negative thoughts and feelings. It can therefore be difficult to meditate alone

Daniel Jordanov, co-founder of the ‘Meditationsfælleskabet’ community at UCPH

The last event of the year has just taken place. It was the meditation app Headspace, which needed to be tested and verbally dissected. The app was created by an Englishman, who after 10 years as an ascetic monk in a Tibetan monastery, decided to spread meditation and mindfulness to a wider audience.

And clinicians and meditation practitioners need to be aware of modern digital solutions, according to Daniel. He himself has used the Headspace app for almost a year with excellent results:

“It gives me a feeling of security, if I feel uneasy. Then I know that I always have the opportunity to take a three-minute stabilising meditation. It gives me peace.”

If the meditation group is to leave the present, if just for a while, then they have big plans for the future. Hopefully they can do the same as Headspace and help disseminate meditation to even more people. Until then, they are seeking funding from a number of foundations to hold more lectures and hope that good karma will be coming their way.

And there is an abundance of new meditation evenings in the pipeline for 2019.

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