Mindful Times

Donna Oropall practicing yoga

Mindfulness is needed more than ever right now, and Professor Donna Oropall is making sure UB’s students are mentally and emotionally supported. “This is a time for all of us to be introspective, to take a step back,” she says. “What better way to do that than through mindful intention, through awareness of our present moment?”

Professor Oropall’s class, Martial Arts 299, Yoga and Meditation, is offered every semester, but in these difficult times the course has taken on a new resonance. Because of the need for social distancing, she is currently leading classes outside the Wheeler Recreation Center at 3:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, using social distancing and masks to be as safe as possible. As the weather gets colder, she hopes to move inside.

As a certified yoga and meditation teacher, Oropall uses both of these practices to teach the students to be more emotionally conscious and intelligent. When classes went remote during the spring 2020 semester, she had to adapt her methods of teaching yoga, meditation, and classes for the Wellness Club. “People were feeling scared and disconnected, like the rug was pulled out from under them,” she says. “They needed it right away.”

Mindfulness has helped Oropall and her students to look at the world as an observer, to detach from the drama. “When they see me calm and in the moment, they will feel better,” she says. “If I am in a place of grateful acceptance, then they will feel grateful, too.”

“The students receive it so well,” she says with confidence. “I can see the shift in them, and they leave much better prepared to weather the storm.”

Oropall’s observation is supported by recent scientific proof that brainwaves change during meditation, including regions involved in learning, memory, emotional regulation, sense of self, and perspective. Research has proven that even informal mindfulness practice, just three minutes of breathing, can change your brain for the better.

This has prompted colleges throughout the world to add meditation to their programs and workdays. Courses on “Happiness” and “Mindfulness” are being added to curricula all over America, and yoga is now considered both physical and mental education. And it is not only students who benefit. Running yoga and meditation for colleagues has also been part of Oropall’s contribution to campus life, and this semester she has invited them to participate in her classes by Zoom and provided them with helpful sources for both practices.

Though it’s challenging to practice yoga or meditation under virtual or hybrid conditions, she is not that worried about the technology getting in the way. “Even something about Zoom helps us feel present, and we are able to really connect.” The students also write bi-weekly journal reflections, another practice that has been proven to be effective in dealing with anxiety and stress.

“Sometimes we need to take a pause, step out of autopilot, and step into this present moment,” she says. “Ground your feet to the earth, look at the sky, and feel the sun on your face.”