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Furman demonstrates commitment to well-being with mindfulness program

The labyrinth at Daniel Chapel is a well-traveled spot for mindfulness, meditation and reflection.

Last updated December 14, 2023

By Jerry Salley ’90

As Furman undergraduates, Laurin Bixby ’19 and Nicholas Torres ’18 discovered the benefits of mindfulness practices through the Koru program led by Meghan Slining, an associate professor of health sciences, and Min-Ken Lao, the William R. Kenan Jr. professor of biology.

Now married and living in Pennsylvania, the alumni couple still encounters periods of stress, as Bixby pursues a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and Torres works in information security.

“We still use the mindfulness skills we learned at Furman like checking in with ourselves and listening to our bodies and minds,” said Bixby.

As Furman alumni, they still had access to Slining’s mindfulness training through an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course subsidized through the Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection. And they both have taken advantage of the opportunity to continue and expand on their mindfulness practices.

“This course has helped me expand my window of tolerance to external stressors, so I’m able to wedge in more awareness as I respond to life’s chronic and acute stressors,” Bixby said. “Meghan has made such a positive impact on my and Nicholas’ lives. I’m so grateful for the continued friendship and mentorship during my time at Furman and beyond.”

‘A natural fit’

Developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine and student of Zen Buddhism, MBSR combines elements of body awareness, meditation, yoga and self-reflection to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. Its origins in a medical setting facilitated years of scientific research providing evidence of its benefits, said Slining, who received her own MBSR teacher training at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University and The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Bringing MBSR to campus led to a collaboration between Slining and the Cothran Center, thanks to one of her early students: Whitney Brown, program coordinator for alumni and community initiatives for the center.

“MBSR and the meditation practice have taught me to live in the present more fully and with more gratitude and compassion for others,” said Brown.

The decision to offer and subsidize the MBSR program resulted from the intersection of several hopes, needs and opportunities, she said.

“We hear from alumni that they’d like more ways to stay connected with the Furman community and other alumni,” said Brown. “This course, because it is offered remotely, allows alumni to practice alongside other alumni.”

MBSR harmonizes with the Cothran Center’s work to foster the exploration of meaning, calling and purpose through a variety of programs for students, alumni, faculty and staff and community partners, she said.

“Contemplative practices like those learned in the MBSR class made it a natural fit,” said Brown, who took Slining’s online MBSR class in Fall 2023 and works with Slining to teach undergraduates the practice of Koru (now known as the Mindfulness Institute for Emerging Adults).

‘Ease and joy in living’

These practices are also a core part of the curriculum of the four-credit Mindfulness for Stress Reduction course Slining co-teaches with Scott Murr, an associate professor of health sciences. A dedication to well-being is also reflected in the innovative counseling services at the Trone Center for Mental Fitness. A $10 million gift from David ’77 and June Trone funded the center’s renovation and expansion of mental health care for students.

Like Brown, many other MBSR students have seen similar impact on their lives. John Hough ’81 was already a frequent participant in the Cothran Center’s pilgrimages and other alumni programs when he was diagnosed with hypertension a few years ago.

“I just realized that MBSR might be my chance to take a new approach,” said Hough, a statistician for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who has noted some improvement after taking the Fall 2023 course. “Not only for controlling my blood pressure, but also how I react to stress.”

“This is why I love teaching MBSR,” said Slining. “It touches people on a deeply human level. It gives me great satisfaction when I see how it brings people a sense of ease and joy in living. And this makes the world a better place.”

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