Contemplative practices in the classroom help increase learning

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As a nursing major, Hannah Henjum has more than her share of stress. So, when one of her professors announced that class would start with some simple yoga stretches and brief guided meditations, she decided to give them a try.

Not only did the contemplative practices help Henjum relax before her Multicultural Population Health Promotion class, they may have contributed to her earning her highest grade that semester.

"It was amazing," said Henjum, now a senior at the University of Portland. "Because it allowed us a space to let go of everything else in our lives and focus, I think I was able to be more effective in the class."

Henjum is not alone. More than half of college students say they have felt "overwhelming anxiety" in the past year, while 85 percent have felt overwhelmed by all they had to do, according to a 2016 study of college students by the American College Health Association.

To address student stress — and facilitate deeper learning — more and more faculty are adding mindfulness practices in the classroom. Since contemplative practices are part of the Catholic tradition, it's not surprising they are being used at Catholic colleges and universities, and not just in the religion and theology departments.

A contemplative practice can be any activity that quiets the mind and helps develop the capacity for deep concentration in the midst of the action and distraction of everyday life, according to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a nonprofit organization that supports the use of contemplative practices in higher education. Contemplative practices can include quiet sitting, breath exercises, meditative walking, guided imagery or even chant.

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A version of this story appeared in the Dec 15-28, 2017 print issue under the headline: Breathe in, breathe out .

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