An oasis for the mind

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The Oasis center's modern look is thanks to its recent opening on August 24 of 2015. Photo credit: Ben Walker

Ben Walker

Among the many challenges that students face is managing stress on a regular basis, and while people cope in different ways, there is scientific evidence that meditation is one of the more effective remedies for stress.

Harvard Medical School neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s research traces the link between mindfulness meditation and changes in the brain. Mindfulness is the meditative practice of focusing completely on the present moment or a neutral object, such as one’s breath, in a more formal meditation.

Lazar’s research found that people with no previous meditation experienced beneficial brain changes after just eight weeks of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

The meditators exhibited thicker regions of the brain like the hippocampus, which deals with regulating emotions and learning, and they also exhibited changes in the amygdala, the part of the brain that triggers the flight or fight response, correlated to reductions in stress.

When it comes to combating the ill effects of stress, CSUN students are fortunate to have quite a few resources, but the Oasis Wellness Center in particular provides students with a refuge on campus where they can meditate and unwind in various ways to relax both mind and body.

For those seeking more traditional forms of meditation, the Oasis offers both breathing meditations, called pranayama, as well as guided ones.

Richard Cardona, a meditator of 30 years, teaches yoga, breath work and meditation at the Oasis. He understands the demand for students who must balance study, work, personal lives, relationships and family and have to contend with “the rollercoasters of midterms and finals.”

His meditations not only seek to help those with anxiety and stress but also to heal deeper traumas. “I see the most change in the guided meditations addressing trauma,” he said. Cardona’s approach to addressing trauma in meditation is in line with modern treatments that incorporate mindfulness.

Coming to meditations allows students overwhelmed by stress to do a “course correction.”

“Students are able to hit pause and reset,” Cardona said. As a result, they become less stressed and more focused and productive.

Cardona seeks to offer students a source of peace and restoration in their busy, chaotic lives and to provide them with tools to create this peace of mind on their own. His advice? “Take a selfie before and after,” he said. “You can really see that you’ve connected to a deeper self.”

Cardona ultimately sees students revitalized after the meditations and yoga sessions. “They are grounded when they leave here,” he said.

For the more sensually minded, the Oasis also offers aromatherapy sessions coupled with short guided meditations. Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils to promote relaxation, clarity and even energy.

Oils can be inhaled either directly or indirectly with a diffuser or topically on the skin. Feeling anxious? Try the lavender or chamomile. In need of clarity or mental energy? Citrus oils, such as lemon and orange, can provide a boost.

One such student, Devansh Sanghvi, recognizes the importance of meditation when it comes to clarity and focus. His blend of eucalyptus and lavender enabled him to relax and focus on the guided meditation.

“If you want to improve memory and concentration, meditation is an invaluable tool,” he said.

Sanghvi is a computer science major who uses meditation to focus on his courses and it has improved his coding skills. He notes his improved concentration and focus as well as sharper memory after regular meditation.

The science of aromatherapy also seems to confirm this: Sniffing rosemary apparently improves memory by 75 percent. Other similar studies also explore the healing properties of essential oils, such as anxiety relief, sleep-aid and energy boost.

Meditation provides a way for people to gain space within their lives that they are so wrapped up in and to cultivate a more peaceful inner life.

“By training in meditation, we create an inner space and clarity that enables us to control our mind regardless of the external circumstances,” Buddhist meditator Geshe Kelsang Gyatso said.

Just like its namesake, the Oasis Wellness Center provides a place to rejuvenate the mind.