Emily Dunuwila, health initiatives coordinator at Cornell Health, is the coordinator of Let’s Meditate.

Let’s Meditate celebrates 10 years of campus mindfulness

The stresses brought on by lectures, exams, papers and the unknown future can clutter up one’s mind.

“Overthinking and the overwhelmed feeling about my responsibilities lead me to crawl into social media and all other unhealthy habits, such as oversleeping or depression,” said Parsa Khayatzadeh, a doctoral student in systems engineering. “Meditation has helped me in a way that allows me to disconnect from all the stress, and lets me tune in with my natural rhythm.”

Khayatzadeh, a lifelong devotee to the practice of meditation, is now taking part in a training from Cornell Health to lead guided mediation sessions for fellow students through the Let’s Meditate program, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this semester. Open to the entire Cornell community, the program serves to counter the rigor of classes, offering participants a moment to breathe and reflect. The series is sponsored by Cornell Health in collaboration with numerous campus partners.

“Mindfulness takes us out of our own heads and provides that bird’s-eye view of what we're going through,” said Emily Dunuwila, health initiatives coordinator at Cornell Health, who coordinates the program. “Extending that awareness and pairing it with non-judgment, empowers us to take positive steps forward.”

Let’s Meditate offers 12 free, nonsecular, drop-in sessions per week – five in person, five online and two hybrid – in which trained facilitators lead meditation exercises designed to focus and quiet the mind. The sessions last 30 minutes.

Let’s Meditate officially launched in 2014 after successful pilots at the Cornell Law School and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. In the first three weeks, the sessions drew more than 100 participants. The number of facilitators and offerings also grew quickly as the program expanded and became available to the entire campus community.

“There are so many daily academic and extracurricular aspects to student life, and Let’s Meditate provides easy access to a moment of self-care during one’s day,” Dunuwila said.

Let’s Meditate runs in-person and virtual sessions almost every weekday during the academic year. Recorded sessions are also available on demand, and weekly sessions hosted in Mandarin and Spanish have recently been added.

“My decision to lead the sessions in Spanish was born out of my own need to connect with the Spanish-speaking community during the pandemic,” said Mar Pérez, a senior coordinator in the Office of Student Support and Advocacy Services, who began leading in-person sessions in English in 2020 in Anabel Taylor Hall. “I felt offering this valuable resource to the Cornell community was important to help promote a sense of connection, belonging and wellness, especially since Cornell students and staff were able to access the online sessions from many remote places.”

Four years later, the online sessions offered in Spanish have continued to be well attended, including by Cornell Cooperative Extension staff, and students at Cornell Tech in New York City.

“Students get in the cycle of constantly doing [academic work] and they forget about their personal well-being,” said Maranda Miller, assistant director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, who is partnering with Cornell Health to develop future internal meditation resources for Bowers CIS students. “The hope is that a set meditation activity will encourage them to include some form of calming activity in their routine.”

“Personally, mindfulness enhanced my academic journey, and it prevented me from getting overwhelmed or heavily stressed,” Miller said. “I could tell that when I didn’t incorporate some form of mindfulness within my routine, I was easily stressed and worried about my assignments.”

Dunuwila is currently working to build connections between Let’s Meditate and Nature Rx @ Cornell, a campuswide initiative focused on finding ways in which spending time in nature can positively impact the mental health and well-being of the community. She also hopes to find ways to collaborate with faculty to create tools and mindfulness techniques they can integrate into the classroom.

“Cornellians have the option to use any guided meditation on YouTube or through a health app, but many students, staff and faculty choose to come together and join live sessions on campus,” Dunuwila said. “It’s very humanizing.”

Stephen D’Angelo is a communications lead for Student and Campus Life.

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Lindsey Knewstub