TCNJ Magazine - Spring 2016

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11 BOTTOM RIGHT: STEPHEN WEBSTER/WORLDWIDE HIDEOUT, INC. Mindfulness 101 Give yourself the gift of the present. If your idea of meditating involves sitting lotus style and disconnecting from the outside world, think again. There's another approach—mindfulness meditation—that's more accessible and still provides a host of benefits, says psychology professor Ashley Borders. At its core, mindfulness meditation isn't about shutting off the mind; that's impossible to do, says Borders. "The point is to notice your thoughts and then, rather than getting stuck in them, let them go by. It's about always returning focus to the present," she says. That's important when it comes to mental health, says Borders, because dwelling on the past can lead to depression, worrying about the future can cause anxiety, and ruminating on negative emotions or stressors can make matters worse. "It's hard to step away from those thoughts but, by learning to focus on the present, meditation can train your mind to intentionally choose what to focus on," says Borders. This means mindfulness meditation can ease the strain of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. It can help you manage heightened emotions and reactions. And, perhaps most important, it can help you move stressful thoughts from the top of mind to the periphery, where they do less damage. Plus, by limiting stress, meditation facilitates a host of physical benefits, from increasing immunity to promoting restful sleep and heart health. Pup Fiction Just how effective are reading-to-dog programs? Trained therapy dogs have become commonplace in hospitals, nursing homes, and special needs centers. Now they're popping up in classrooms, where they're serving as captive audiences for struggling and shy young readers. Studies have suggested reading-to- dog programs have a positive effect on students' self-esteem, interest, and enthusiasm—but do students' reading test scores reflect a similar benefit? Not always, discovered Professor of Psychology Jean Kirnan. In an article published last fall in Early Childhood Education Journal, Kirnan reported that while kindergarteners who participated in a dog reading program performed better on end-of-year reading tests than a control group, a similar analysis on students from first to fourth grade found no noticeable improvement. However, certain subsets of students do appear to make greater strides in reading and writing as a result of interaction with therapy Ready to get started? Here are Borders' tips for meditation neophytes: > JOIN A YOGA CLASS In addition to the 10-minute meditation that ends most yoga sessions, yogis experience many of the same benefits as meditators because the basic tenets of the two practices are so aligned. "Yoga and meditation are about noticing what your body is doing," says Borders. "Yoga is a movement-based practice, while mindfulness meditation is more of an awareness practice." > USE A GUIDED MEDITATION Whether they're done in-person or online, guided meditations are great for beginners who aren't sure they're doing it right. > DO IT YOURSELF No time for a class? Informal approaches to meditation can be just as effective, says Borders. Whether you're doing the dishes, walking to your car, or eating, Borders recommends submerging yourself in the experience and taking calm, deliberate notice of your five senses. "Just pay attention to the sensations you're feeling, instead of distracting yourself in some way. All of that can help bring you to the present." —Melissa Kvidahl THE NEED-TO- KNOW BASIS dogs. Special needs and ESL students, as well as children who struggle with reading, speech impediments, or shyness, seemed to experience less fear and embarrassment. "You can make a mistake when reading, and the dog just sits there, smiling at you," Kirnan explains. Looking ahead, Kirnan wants to investigate how the use of therapy dogs in the classroom might impact more qualitative measures for school-age children, such as attitudes toward and interest in reading. "Aliterate is a word that describes a child who is capable of reading but is not interested," says Kirnan. "As children age, their reading ability goes up, but their interest declines. But if reading is associated with fun, maybe they'll continue to read." —Meeri Kim

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