As the sun set on Friday night, a group of certified wellness coaches held a guided meditation session on the UC lawn. Dinesh Kashikar, also known as Kashi, found meditation beneficial during college and now travels to campuses to help other stress-filled students.

The event did not include yoga mats, calm music or candles. Kashi and his comrades simply sat with students to focus on their breath and mind, and he mentioned the need to demystify meditation.

“People think ‘my mind is too crazy to meditate’ but once you follow the algorithm it’s easy,” Kashi said. “Meditation is for everyone, our goal is for people to learn they can do it with no intervention.” 

During Friday’s event, Kashi informed students of how the mind handles stress. He said that people try to stop focusing on a stressful thought, but the more they push their mind to stop thinking about it, the stronger the thought become. Meditation can bring relief to this problem.

He also said that the basis of what people do begins with their state of mind. Meditation is a way to take more control of that state of mind, and is the best way to work with one’s self.

“When we have the key to the car (our mind) driving it is easy,” Kashi said. “Thoughts like clouds come and go, and the key to meditation is to be in thoughts.”

Kashi has been meditating for more than 25 years and has guided meditation sessions for more than six years. He knew meditation was an important tool to share when he saw his need for sleep shrink two hours by adding only 20 minutes of daily meditation.

Kashi’s project is called The Art of Living and has benefited over 370 million people through SkyCamps, their system of bringing meditation resources and education to college students. The benefit of meditation is apparent through the stories of these students, including one instance where Kashi “saved a life”.

“About 5 or 6 years ago two students came to me after a program and thanked me for saving their life,” Kashi said. “They were going through a traumatic break-up, but they got back together because of meditation.”

Seated across from Kashi on Friday was his partner, Deepika Konakanchi. Konakanchi, a University of Memphis graduate, also discovered meditation during college and sees the practice as immensely valuable.

Konakanchi is part of The International Association of Human Values, and obtained a Ph.D at Memphis while raising young children. She credits meditation for her ability to stay focused despite her many responsibilities.

“It was possible because of meditation, I made it without being stressed out,” Konakanchi said. “There’s a bigger high in meditation than any other recreational means.”

About 38% of college students use marijuana during school, according to a 2018 study by The University of Michigan. Contrary to medicating, a 2016 study by Biological Psychiatry showed that mindful meditation can change the brain and lower the risks of inflammatory disease.

Konakanchi said there is always a need to relax and keep the mind calm. Like Kashi, Konakanchi remembered a moment where meditation changed someone’s life.

“Seven years ago I guided 100 students doing meditation for the first time,” Konakanchi said. “I received an email six years later from an attendee who still remembered and valued the 6-minute practice.”

The Art of Living has been in service for 37 years and has 3,000 centers worldwide. The group is open to starting a SkyCamp at the UofM via their website, artofliving.org.

One UofM student felt an impact from Friday’s meditation session. Sophomore marketing major, Saran Panchakunathorn, grew up in the Buddhist country of Thailand, where meditation was common.

“Since I was a child my parents would take us to the temple and monks would meditate,” Panchakunathorn said. “I just know the basics, but you get positive vibes and drop everything you’re thinking, definitely worth trying.”

Panchakunathorn also said that when he couldn’t sleep or was struggling, he would meditate. He said that meditation could help recover both your mind and body, and that Friday’s session was beneficial.

Skepticism around meditation still exists, but it is a healthy substance-free approach to handling stress. Free resources are available on YouTube and anybody can meditate according to Kashi.

“It’s a profound experience. Our vision is to bring more smiles and happiness to more people,” Konakanchi said.

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