With the focusing ring of a bell, the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies recently opened its doors as a resource for students, faculty and community members interested in the benefits of the ancient practice of mindfulness.
The sound of a small bell has been the start of many meetings of students, staff and faculty around campus during this past year. Their goal has been to generate support for each others' applications of mindfulness as a personal stress-reduction practice and in their professions as researchers, health care practitioners, educators and scholars. Their meetings led to the creation of the new center.
The goal of the center, funded through Pitt's Office of the Provost, is to foster collaborative research into mindfulness and support the use of mindfulness in education. Members range from students to staff to tenured professors in a broad range of disciplines, including public health, religious studies, psychology, counseling, education, business, rehabilitation, medicine, creative writing and social work, as well as people from outside the university.
"Mindfulness is an open and aware state that has deep roots in ancient traditions, such as meditation and yoga, and includes concepts highly relevant to modern life," said Carol Greco, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt. "Evidence for mindfulness meditation as a health-promoting intervention is flourishing, with peer-reviewed research growing exponentially in recent years. It is exciting that Pitt is recognizing the value of mindfulness research through this new center."
In addition to research, the Center will focus on education and on service. Leah Northrop, M.S., B.S., faculty at the Falk Laboratory School and co-facilitator of the Center's Education Core, is hoping to work with teachers of children and youth at all grade levels, as well as faculty and instructors in higher education settings, to bring mindfulness into the classroom as a tool to increase students' ability to attend with purpose and think creatively while giving them practical ways to reduce stress.
The Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies will be involved in Pitt's "Year of the Humanities," the university's overarching theme for the 2015-2016 academic year. Fiona Cheong, M.F.A., B.A., of Pitt's Department of English, is planning a project that will link her writing students with health care staff in the School of Medicine.
This year, the center is organizing a retreat for members, a speaker's series and a conference open to the public and outside institutions interested in learning more about mindfulness. It also will support student and faculty research projects on mindfulness and related subjects.
"We are working to support rigorous scientific research on mindfulness and its physical, psychosocial and pedagogical effects. We will provide faculty and students with opportunities to brainstorm, develop appropriate research designs, submit proposals to the National Institutes of Health and other funders, carry on the research and disseminate findings," said Anthony Silvestre, Ph.D., professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health.
Mindfulness practices have been used by patients to manage pain and stress, as a way to help grade school students focus, and by writers and artists to improve creativity, among other applications.
The Center is intended to be an academic complement to the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, which has had more than 600 participants in the past decade.
Meetings will be held regularly and are open to members of the University community. More information about the Center, including meeting schedule times and locations, is available at mindfulnesspitt.org.
The Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies is housed in Pitt Public Health, which will provide administrative support. Additional sponsors include Pitt's School of Medicine, School of Health and Rehabilitation Science, the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School, School of Education and the departments of Religious Studies and English in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.