"I didn’t think it was going to work, but it works, and I’ve tried all types of methods to relieve stress.”
"We began to find who we were and where we are (in life).”
"It exceeded my expectations. This type of mindful relaxation is like yoga for the mind.”
These reviews are just a few of the accolades lauded by students who participated in an 8-week course on stress reduction at Cincinnati COOKS! — a free culinary job training program for under and unemployed individuals operated by the Freestore Foodbank.
The University of Cincinnati (UC)’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness sponsored the course, with funds gifted by the Vijay R. Sanghvi Family Foundation. The gift was designed for the express purpose of providing integrative medicine therapies, such the practice of mindfulness based stress reduction, to Greater Cincinnati’s under resourced population.
The stress reduction course consisted of eight two-hour-long weekly sessions and a one-day retreat session led by psychologist, Meera Murthi, PhD. The course offered at Cincinnati COOKS! was based on curriculum from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) which was developed in the 1970s at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center to assist people with pain and a range of conditions and life stressors. MBSR research over the last three decades, she says, has demonstrated clinically significant improvements in psychological and medical symptoms across a range of medical diagnoses and life issues.
The course involved both formal mindfulness practices, such as awareness of breath, sitting, walking meditation, yoga, body scans, and weekly exercises all of which were geared towards cultivating mindfulness and awareness in everyday life.
There were also home practices (mindfulness during daily chores, mindful eating, mindful breathing) and week-by-week exercises drawn from the MBSR curriculum. For example, in one session, students sat on the floor, cross-legged, on yoga mats, closed their eyes and listened as the soft-spoken Murthi guided them through awareness of breath meditation.
"Collaborating with the Freestore Foodbank was an excellent outreach opportunity for this gift, as Cincy COOKS! is a second chance program where trainees are working actively to get their lives on a better track,” says Sian Cotton, PhD, a professor in UC’s Department of Family and Community Medicine and director of UC’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness.
People in under resourced populations who participate in these types of courses have a variety of improved outcomes such as reduced anxiety levels and quality of life (e.g. physical functioning, vitality, social functioning, and mental health), says Cotton.
"Through programs designed to improve food security for individuals and communities, the Freestore Foodbank connects people with more food and resources, and gives them the tools they need to become self-sufficient,” said Sarah Veness, Cincinnati COOKS! Admissions & Career Counselor.
Veness adds, "This partnership with the University of Cincinnati provided extra support to our students on their path to job readiness, especially in the areas of open communication and teamwork. We appreciate UC’s support in building into our students and giving them the tools that they need to succeed. Together, we can build programs that promote family and community food security.”
"It was amazing to see how they ‘showed up’ for the practices,” says Murthi. "Many have a history of discrimination and access barriers, struggles with employment, medical issues, and life stressors and what I really saw was sincerity. I don’t think there was one person in the room throughout the course who wasn’t trying.”
Data on the course is still being compiled, but given the participant commentary the Sanghvi gift was a positive resource for our under resourced population and we look forward to continuing to expand its reach, says Cotton.