Over the last two years, the Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG) has offered community events with the Shanthi Project, a Lehigh Valley based non-profit promoting the practice of mindfulness in schools, businesses and other organizations.
On Feb. 26, LUAG began a three-session program called “Yoga for Every Body with Shanthi Project,” held in the LUAG main gallery.
Stacie Brennan, curator of education at LUAG, said they have been working with the Shanthi Project since 2020 and have found their programs to be a bridge between community and campus stakeholders. Shanthi Project events have brought in families, educators, local artists and students from across the Lehigh Valley to Lehigh’s campus.
“It’s important for us to find ways to connect people with art so they can use that as a means for exploring diverse perspectives while also exploring their own individual identity and well-being,” Brennan said.
Prior to holding in-person events in the gallery room, Brennan said LUAG first worked with the Shanthi Project on a number of Zoom events that were well-received. She said the events help people feel more in tune with their mind and body.
Melanie Smith, a teacher and trainer at the Shanthi Project, said mindfulness is the act of checking in with oneself by acknowledging one’s own thoughts, surroundings and bodily feelings. By doing so, she said people are able to better manage the stressors in their lives.
“One thing that demystifies mindfulness is really understanding that you don’t have to sit across in a seated position on the ground in a quiet space with candles lit,” Smith said. “You can literally sit in your car at a stoplight and just check in with yourself and ask, ‘how do I feel?”’
Providing an example, Smith said it’s generally accepted that social media is “bad for us” but in practice, mindfulness can help a person reflect on negative thoughts that may come up without resentment or worry.
“I recognize that I’m getting the tug to just aimlessly scroll and I notice how that made me feel,” Smith said. “When you’re feeling those stressful moments, you can go back, put your hand on your heart, you can feel your breath, you can feel your feet on the ground and you can restabilize yourself at your center.”
Mindfulness, clinically referred to as MSRB (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), is taught in many parts of the healthcare industry as a mental aid to doctors, surgeons and other medical personnel. Large universities and health networks gravitate toward the offerings of MSRB because of its accessibility and foundation in science-backed findings, Smith said.
After Saturday’s session at LUAG, Smith said she left energized after working with such an excited group. She led them in exercises that engaged all five senses while taking in the works of art that surrounded them.
“I feel wonderful, I feel really relaxed, I feel energized and ultimately grateful that Shanthi presented this for so many people to come to,” said participant Jeannette Claessens, who has been coming to Shanthi-partnerned events for nearly 10 years.
While the Feb. 26 session was full, a second session will be offered in April. Brennan encourages members of the community to share in their gallery space for the opportunity to relax and be mindful.