Reanna Mankaryous didn’t think mindfulness practices would “do anything for” her. But after a friend insisted that she come along to a yoga class and one day, “I caved,” she says. The rest, as they say, is history.
“After, I said, ‘Wow. Can we go compliment someone outside or something?’” recalls Mankaryous, who is studying behavioral neuroscience at Northeastern and is planning on going to medical school. “You know when you’re sitting on a summer day and you feel the warmth of the sun and it’s just a really nice feeling? That’s what it felt like.”
Now, Mankaryous is augmenting her studies with a minor in mindfulness studies. She will be among the first cohort in the interdisciplinary minor this fall.
The mindfulness studies minor grew out of a request for more courses on mindfulness by students to professor Laura Dudley, an assistant clinical professor of applied psychology who teaches a course titled Introduction to Mindfulness. When Dudley, who is also director of applied behavior analysis programs, looked at course catalogues from other universities for inspiration, she realized that very few offered mindfulness programs.
“What we want is to enrich our students’ lives and to allow them to be the best citizens that they can be,” Dudley says. “That’s the goal of our program. That’s an unusual program goal, but that is ours.”
The interdisciplinary minor includes two required courses: Dudley’s Introduction to Mindfulness, and Selling Spirituality, which is taught by Liz Bucar, a professor of religion at Northeastern. Some electives focus on the philosophical and religious roots of mindfulness practices, while others are geared toward applying the practices in daily life, including a course called Personal Behavior Change and another called Relationships in College.
The courses come from a variety of departments including philosophy and religion, and health sciences. That interdisciplinary nature is intentional, Dudley says, and she hopes the offerings will continue to expand as students and faculty engage with the new minor.
“Mindfulness is about bringing awareness to the way that we are living our lives,” Dudley says. In the course, students discuss how to be mindful consumers of social media, how to use money mindfully, and also consider in what situations they are mindless.
Mindfulness has become a multibillion dollar industry featuring paid apps and other services for consumers seeking to engage with the practice. “People want in on this,” Dudley says. But “I think so often mindfulness practices today feel really separate from those ancient spiritual origins,” she says.
That’s why the minor weaves religious studies courses with psychology courses and others. “We don’t just want to dive into these practices with a blind eye,” Dudley says. “We want to pay homage to the ancient spiritual practices and traditions that led to modern day mindfulness.”
Mankaryous was drawn to take Dudley’s introduction course in the spring 2021 semester by a desire to understand those roots of mindfulness practices. “I felt like I can’t really experience it without knowing the culture and everything else behind it, or else I just become the part of society that’s just taking all those things and using them for their own benefit,” she says.
Jing Ren has been practicing yoga since high school, but she “always felt detached from the spirituality aspect of it,” she says. That’s why Ren, a psychology major and behavioral neuroscience minor, took Dudley’s introduction course and considered declaring the mindfulness studies minor, despite not having the time because she’s on track to graduate in December 2021.
“I was practicing the physical practice of yoga, like knowing the positions, and I knew very little about the history and the spiritual underpinnings of the physical practice,” Ren says. But after taking the introduction to mindfulness course, “I definitely feel more connected to the practice,” she says. “I feel like I’m respecting it in a different way. There is this thought and intention behind it, and I’m not just going through the motions, literally.”
Anyone is welcome—regardless of experience or major, Dudley says. “We see the mindfulness minor as benefiting students who are studying really any discipline. We see this minor as allowing students to bring an awareness to how they live their lives and how they can be good citizens and excel in their fields of study through practices that are based on these sort of ancient spiritual traditions.”
Already, students from many different disciplines take Dudley’s introduction to mindfulness course. “There’s definitely a wide variety of majors, and a bunch of kids are athletes, a bunch of people are either pre-med or business,” Mankaryous says. “I think it was really important that with all of those different majors in one class, it was the class where you focus on your inner self.”