Taylor Gym recently opened a new meditation room, complete with tranquil music and relaxing lighting. Each mat comes with a plush pillow, soft blanket, and small towel. (Sarah dePillis/B&W Staff)

UnpLUg Zone promotes mindfulness on campus

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Taylor Gym unveiled the UnpLUg Zone, a meditation studio for the Lehigh community to disconnect, destress and practice mindfulness.

Doug Strange, assistant athletic director for campus athletics/strength and conditioning, and Genna Albano, assistant manager of fitness and instructional programs created The UnpLUg Zone.

“Lehigh can be a high-stress place,” Albano said. “We see our role in the fitness and recreation area to provide healthy outlets to try to help unload some of that stress and energy, offering not only fitness options, but other options (that) also appeal to people’s mental health and overall well-being.”

Strange said he and Albano recognized that the mental health of students has become more challenging.

After looking at the space available in the gym, thinking of what would be most beneficial to students and speaking with the counseling center, they started moving forward with their plans for the UnpLUg Zone.

“It was a collective process that we started last fall, so going back over a year ago to start researching, would this be a good idea, talking to counseling services about what are the stresses they are seeing, what are they hearing from students, and would this be beneficial,” Albano said. “We took a step back to allow enough time to properly research, plan and implement it the right way.”

The studio is designated as a safe space, so patrons are not asked to sign-in and is free.

Strange said they’re hoping to assist from a holistic and a wellness standpoint, to offer a space where it’s safe, comfortable and for students to relax.

In some cases, it could also serve as a possible adjunct to the support that students get from the counseling center or for those that pursue this interest on their own. 

Natalie Rosato, ’20, practices personal mediation almost every day.

“I definitely think it’s good to have a nice space,” Rosato said. “I normally meditate in my room, but it’s nice to have a space after the gym or if I’m feeling stressed and by Taylor, I can go in that room and meditate.”

While Rosato mediates on her own, she prefers guided meditations that point her toward what she should be thinking and feeling.

That’s where Brent Hogarth, a counselor in psychological services at Lehigh, plays a vital role. Hogarth is leading the Friday introduction to meditation sessions.

“Having a place where people are allowed and encouraged to be still, to just be, is powerful and it sends a message to students that this is something the university and the athletic department encourages,” Hogarth said. 

Hogarth said some of the potential benefits of meditation is increasing flow state, which enhances performance in difficult environments, improves memory, attention, concentration and sleep.

He said research suggests meditation may reduce chronic pain, anxiety, depression, self-harm behaviors, substance abuse and eating disorders.

“We have the under the wire role to create successful students and people who exercise and take care of their mental health, experience more success academically,” Strange said. “The research is out there, so we play that very strong out of class role for the success of the student. Give them the opportunity to come here, to gain clarity or reduce stress and open up that avenue to be able to think more clearly and be more successful.”

The UnpLUg Zone, located on the third floor of Taylor Gym is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m.- 2:00 p.m. for drop-in meditation, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:15-4:45 p.m. for drop-in meditation and Fridays from 1:15-4:45 p.m. for a guided introduction to meditation class with Hogarth. The Friday introduction class lasts about half an hour, and then the studio is open for drop-in time.

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