Mindfulness at Syracuse University Transforms Student’s Experience

By Emma Henzes ’20

Mollie Adolf practicing yoga outside
Mollie Adolf ’20

Mindfulness is more than just a minor to Mollie Adolf. It changed her experience at Syracuse University.

Following the end of her freshman year, Mollie went to a residential treatment center for an eating disorder, something she had struggled with for seven years in the past. During her first year at Syracuse, her mental health suffered, leaving her with a decision on whether or not to come back to finish her education at Syracuse University. After successfully completing her recovery program, which had a heavy focus on mindfulness, spirituality and yoga, Mollie knew she needed a resource on campus that was mindfulness- or yoga-based upon returning to school.

Early in the fall of her sophomore year, she declared a minor in Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies, offered through Falk College’s Department of Human Development and Family Science. She felt it was key to maintaining her recovery. “It was like I was still in treatment in many ways. The classes brought me that same comfort,” Mollie said. Many of the mindfulness classes require practicing meditation multiple times a week and reporting back to the professor. “Along with meditation classes, I’ve gotten to take classes on how we cope with anxiety, how our childhood traumas reveal themselves in the ways we cope, whether those coping skills are healthy or unhealthy.” All of these topics were already of interest to Mollie as someone who has been practicing yoga and mindfulness since she was a young girl.

Mollie loves the opportunity to take unique classes like holistic healing and creative writing classes through the minor. During her time abroad in Sydney, Australia, she took a course on Buddhism that counted for her mindfulness minor. She has taken child and family studies classes wherein she learned about childhood trauma and its impact on human development. Mollie felt Dr. Diane Grimes’ Mindful Communication class brought her many useful skills as a communicator. “Dr. Grimes focuses her classes on social justice and combines her communication and mindfulness background to bring all of those subjects together.” Every class begins with yoga and meditation, then studying communication theory and how it relates to being mindful in terms of how people communicate and engage with one another, whether they approach interactions with empathy and humility, or defensiveness and stubbornness.

“Mindfulness keeps me in touch with myself. Having my mindfulness minor keeps me accountable, and has motivated me to continue practicing mindfulness outside of the classroom,” Mollie said.

Now, as a senior, Mollie emphasizes the transformation in her experience freshman year to sophomore year at Syracuse. “Having this minor changed the way I engage with this campus, and changed the way I see myself. It’s much easier to remain steadfast in my commitment to recovery when I have a whole community of peers and professors who inform me about mindfulness resources, retreats, speakers and the like through my minor.” Through the Buddhism Club, Mollie and other students traveled to a Buddhist monastery for a weekend and lived among monks, adapting to their lifestyle of mediation, discipline and simplicity. Mollie has also participated in SoulScape through Syracuse University, a weekend retreat that features activities and group exercises focused on purpose, gratitude and vulnerability. Mollie was selected to teach a yoga class this year at SoulScape.

Continuing her passion for mindfulness, Mollie teaches yoga classes at the Barnes Center three times a week. Her classes focus on mental health and using physical postures to work through mental blockages. “Certain parts of the body correlate to our inner world. The chakras, or energy centers, in our body range from feeling grounded, trusting and stable all the way to our sense of mysticism, spirituality, and enlightenment. It’s this mind-body connection I didn’t let myself feel for most of my life,” Mollie said. During National Eating Disorder Week, Mollie’s class’s theme was ‘body prayer,’ complete with postures relating to self-love and confidence, forgiving and being gentle with ourselves and our bodies, and a public playlist on Spotify titled Body Prayer. “The intention behind this theme is to think about how we speak to ourselves and how we treat our bodies. I know first hand how much room for self-abuse there is in exercise, and a big part of my relationship with yoga was this reconciliation of using physical movement to love myself and not to punish myself. I’m sure some people sign up for my class with an intention to ‘better themselves’ physically. Ultimately I want people to leave with a different perspective on exercise,” Mollie explained.

She plans on using her minor in her future. Mollie suggested that any major can benefit from the skills that mindfulness gave her. As a Television, Radio and Film major at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Mollie feels her minor helps her be a better communicator and a better person. She plans to pursue comedy writing after graduation, as well as continuing her role as a yoga instructor. Mollie spent her senior fall semester at Syracuse’s Los Angeles campus interning for Apatow Productions. Her Mindfulness minor and TRF major came together here. Judd Apatow had just finished producing ‘The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling,” a documentary on a comedian in the Jerry Seinfield era. The documentary traced the comedian’s relationship with Zen Buddhism, mediation and mindfulness and how that affected his comedy writing. “It was so interesting to see someone who had been a very successful comedian incorporate both of those things into his life,” Mollie said. “I don’t have a clear-cut plan, but I see there is a lot of room for both of those worlds to come together.”

Mollie says she is open to sharing her personal story because she wants other students to realize the benefits of mindfulness classes. “I am part of a community at Syracuse that revolves around physical movement, body and ultimately transformation. I have the privilege as a teacher to change the narrative and hopefully inspire my peers to approach exercise in a non-self-destructive way.”

For opportunities to study and practice mindfulness, visit the Syracuse University Contemplative Collaborative, an initiative that supports students, faculty and staff who engage in contemplative practices, as well as teaching strategies, scholarly research, and discourse surrounding these practices, with the goal of cultivating focused attention in ways that foster insight and deepen understanding of complex issues.