Mindful Monday

Just another Mindful Monday: Zoom class helps the UR community stay centered during pandemic

September 21, 2020

Campus Life

Roger Mancastroppa recently sent a message to participants in his Mindful Monday class to help them respond to the pandemic.

“As we continue moving into this idea of a ‘new normal,” he wrote, “we might consider being truly aware of why we wish to venture back down that path. Having a ‘normal’ way of being offers us a sense of security, but most often it is a false sense of security because our external lives are always changing. It is the nature of our environment to constantly change — as we have discovered from (among so many other things) the expansion of COVID-19 from a virus contained in a remote area to a global pandemic.”

As he has done for years, Mancastroppa offers a moment to pause each week. He chose Mondays because he heard from many that “Mondays are brutal.”

It’s not the first time he’s offered a mindfulness practice on campus. He’s been involved with mindfulness on campus for about 10 years, although it’s not part of his responsibilities as the associate director for Academic Skills. “I like it for myself, and I wanted to share it with others,” he said.

Mindfulness is being woven into the University’s DNA. An article in the fall 2019 issue of Spider Insider details the mindfulness initiative launched by the Office of the Provost as a means to give faculty and staff the tools they need to assist students in coping with today’s stressors.

Mindfulness practice provides moments of quiet and focus that can spill over into the rest of the day,” said Jonathan Wight, an economics professor in the Robins School of Business, who regularly participates. “Getting into this mind space on a regular basis can help students gain focus and reduce stress.” 

For Mancastroppa, mindfulness was part of his recovery from PTSD in the military. “It provides the real benefits of stress reduction and emotional regulation,” he said. “Mindfulness allows you to be present in the moment.”

Mancastroppa did not continue his class when the University first went remote. Familiar with YouTube and apps that offer mindfulness, he decided to offer Mindful Mondays via Zoom. “Offering it via Zoom in some ways makes it more available,” he said. “People could click a button and they are there. They can enter or leave when they need to and not worry about disturbing others.”

He also now leads a mindfulness class on Wednesdays for alumni. The Office of Alumni and Career Services reached out to him to ask him to lead it.  

“I get to share this wonderful part of my life,” he said. “Even better, I get to practice. It’s a win-win for me.”

When classes are held in-person, Mancastroppa said he is better able to read the room. “When we are in the room together, I can see if they are relaxed, shifting.” Zoom, though, allows participants to choose their space. “You’re in a comfortable, safe space, so it’s easier to relax.”

Each Monday he begins the session conversing with participants and asking what they need. He speaks slowly and quietly, and often his cat Snowey Renn joins on Zoom sitting quietly in Mancastroppa’s lap. Mancastroppa rings a bell to center everyone and begins to guide the participants.

Leslie Williams Stevenson, director of the Career Development Center, chose to participate in Mindful Mondays to learn techniques for relaxing and centering herself. “Roger and the other Mindful Monday participants have created a caring community, and I’ve learned great techniques that I can use throughout my daily life.”

The practice has been particularly helpful during the pandemic. “It is the one time each week that I remember to sit, be still, and not focus on the many challenges people are facing in our world and country,” she said. “Each time I leave a Mindful Monday session, I’m amazed at how much calmer, focused, and optimistic I am than I was at the beginning of the session.” 

Through mindfulness, Mancastroppa helps individuals develop a capacity to hold a lot of different emotions at the same time and develop balance. “That gives you a real strength,” he said. “And it’s a great benefit during a pandemic.”

“It's also just a wonderful opportunity to be able to manage all the things that you need to,” he added. “Be mindful of wearing a mask. Be mindful of staying 6 feet apart.”