Mercyhurst University

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Mindfulness comes to communication classroom

Friday, February 6, 2015

As students hustle through busy corridors en route to their next class, those in Brian Sheridan’s mindful communication classroom settle into their seats, fall silent and breathe.

“Focus on the breath and being in this moment,” Sheridan tells the dozen or so Mercyhurst University students.

For 65 minutes, three days a week, they learn the merits of mindful communication and practice a mix of silence, mirroring, encouraging, discerning and responding, all of which makes it possible to listen more deeply to others and develop greater clarity and confidence in responding.

The process of being mindful is in focusing on the moment and attempting to tune out all the competing distractions – like the daily barrage of texts and e-mails – so that you are better equipped to deal with stress and difficult emotions. Sheridan explains how the practice of mindfulness can change the way we communicate, enhance our relationships, help us achieve our goals and even make us happier.

“Communication is something we do every day but as the pace of our lives and the number of message channels increase, people can lose focus on the message they are sending or how they are responding,” Sheridan said. “Reacting automatically, or mindlessly, can damage personal and business relationships and create more stress in our lives.”

Seth Francis, a senior education studies major from Ebensburg, said he’s always been interested in communication and interpersonal relationships and looks to Sheridan’s class as way to strengthen his.

“I’m interested in learning to be present in the conversation and not letting ego and personality differences get in the way of effective communication,” he said. “It’s definitely complex because even though the concepts are easy to understand, applying them takes practice and dedication.”

With roots in Buddhism and Hinduism, mindfulness, yoga and meditation have gained popularity among Americans in recent decades. Fueled by research identifying their benefits to emotional, mental and physical health, Western culture has secularized the practices to focus on posture, breathing and relaxation techniques.

Corporations like Google and Target, NFL teams like the Seattle Seahawks, even the U.S. Marines have hired meditation experts to teach their people how to live more mindfully. Health care centers are creating mindfulness classes for patients. And universities are offering mindfulness in religion, psychology, even communication classes.

“This class is designed to demonstrate that mindfulness isn’t limited to meditation, or a particular religion, but can also be applied to effective interpersonal communication and, thus, improve the quality of our lives through stronger relationships and reduced stress,” Sheridan said.