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Making meditation accessible A McMaster student has turned her psychology project into a stress-reducing app

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Recent discussions on mental health have highlighted the importance of both physical and mental states of wellbeing. University students are among the most vulnerable to various mental health disorders, such as depression, and schools have began implementing initiatives to tackle this problem. Vicky Looby, a student at McMaster and the founder of the Take5 Mindfulness and Wellness Centre, hopes to do her part by promoting the benefits of mindfulness meditation on mental health.

Looby, who has worked in the social service sector for years, is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Through the Neuroscience 2NF3 course with Professor Ayesha Khan, she transformed a group project into an entrepreneurial venture.

As a mature student and a mother of two, Looby realized the necessity of finding a means to cope with stress. Scouring through the internet for meditation tips, she realized how time consuming and daunting the process seemed to inexperienced individuals. While other members have since gone their separate ways, Looby continued pursuing her newfound passion.

The dogma of her business: taking five minutes out of your day to mindfully meditate will allow you to reap countless benefits and maintain a healthy state of mind. Approximately 150 McMaster students have already taken up her thirty-day challenge. The thirty-day challenge entails taking five minutes out of each day for the next thirty days to practice mindful meditation. The goal of this initiative is to educate and guide students in taking care towards their mental health, and the thirty-day program will build a habit that leads to longer and more effective sessions in the future.

Many people confuse mindfulness with meditation. Mindfulness is having a general awareness of the world, while meditation is when a person intentionally sets aside time to do something good for themselves. Mindfulness meditation is somewhat a combination of the two; it is a formal meditation practice within the realm of mindfulness. This type of meditation entails paying attention to whatever is there in the moment. The goal is not necessarily to push thoughts out of one’s mind, but to focus on one thing and learn to be present.

Once believed to be the stuff of fiction, mindfulness meditation is now proven by science and is an evidence-based practice. MRI studies show physical changes to the brain and fluctuations in brain activity after completing an eight-week meditation program. Results suggest that taking five minutes before an exam or a lecture may lead to improved focus, which helps in better testing and more effective learning.

The current focus of Looby’s business is the Take5 smart-device application. This app can be accessed on portable devices, providing a medium to regulate mindfulness meditation anywhere. As you take five minutes each day, you make progress and level-up.

Joe Crozier and Niko Savaf, two engineering students at McMaster who also own their own business, are at the helm of this project. The beta testing stage is set for April 2015. Come fall, Looby hopes to launch the app and plans on starting her own mindfulness meditation practice that will offer eight-week therapy groups, as well as provide education services for high-stress jobs. Cost for the Take5 app is still up in the air, but she is hoping Student Wellness Centres at universities will purchase the app for students.

In essence, the Take5 App is a gym membership for your brain, and a workout without all of the sweat. She hopes, by enlisting the appeal of quick convenience, more people will take a break from their hectic schedules to tend to their mental wellbeing.

“Everyone has – and deserves – at least five minutes to give themselves,” said Looby, “and the results of doing so on their overall mental health could be astounding.”

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