Academic adviser practices mindfulness in rainforest, Ann Arbor


On a recent beautiful fall day, Denise Kozikowski had an unusually Zen lunch break.

Kozikowski led a group of staff and faculty to the Law Quad Commons Courtyard, where they practiced “mindfulness meditation” and soaked up the sunshine.

Kozikowski, an academic adviser at the Newnan LSA Academic Advising Center, has led “Mindfulness@Umich” meditation sessions for U-M students and professionals since she joined the university in 2012.

At the Newnan Center, Kozikowski conducts anywhere from six to 12 advising appointments with undergraduates each day. Still, she makes sure to find time in her schedule to lead these weekly meditation sessions for faculty, staff and students.

Denise Kozikowski also leads meditation sessions for U-M students and professionals. (Photo by Sylvia Escolero)

In our fast-paced culture, mindfulness meditation focuses on being present for every moment, which helps many to de-stress and regain energy, Kozikowski says.

“We barely have time to stop and feel the weather,” she says. “Mindfulness teaches us to be present for all of the ups and downs of life: the good and the bad, the beautiful and the challenging.”

Mindfulness also has academic benefits. Meditation and mindfulness training have been linked to increased focus, productivity and decreased test anxiety.

Kozikowski is thankful that the Newnan Advising Center Advising provided the opportunity and the support to offer mindfulness to the U-M community.

“I feel so grateful to come to work every day. I have wonderful colleagues and I love working with the students. The Newnan Advising Center is a place that allows you to pursue your strengths, as well as the things that make you excited to wake up in the morning.”

Mindfulness@Umich” has grown rapidly since its founding in 2012. Drop-in sessions for students typically attract about 25 students per session, and more than 350 students expressed in the sessions this fall. More than 50 faculty and staff are signed up to attend Friday lunchtime drop-in sessions, and those numbers continue to grow.

In the summer of 2014, Kozikowski brought her passion for mindfulness across the world. She partnered for four weeks with her Newnan advising colleague, Denise Guillot, and  led a group of 15 students to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest. The Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates program sponsored the excursion, via the Center for Global and Intercultural Study.

Guillot, a primatologist, was responsible for the environmental science component of the excursion, while Kozikowski led the mindfulness and creativity component, teaching students to be aware of their lush surroundings in the rainforest, to walk more slowly, listen deeply and to notice detail.

“The Amazonian rainforest is so thickly dense that it’s hard to see even a few feet in front of you.” Kozikowski laughs.

The jungle “gives you nothing easily,” Kozikowski says about this transformational experience. “The jungle constantly rewards slow, quiet patience, which is so different from what we are accustomed to in our fast-paced culture.”

Kozikowski, Guillot and the students all learned to manage with less in the rainforest, living with limited electricity and no warm water at all.

“We learned to transcend the comforts that we’re used to at home, acclimating and still appreciating our surroundings. That breeze that you catch in the jungle, where there’s usually no breeze, becomes exquisite.”


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