MSUM athletic trainer practices ‘mindfulness’

BY SAMANTHA GARDNER

gardnersa@mnstate.edu

“Paying attention, in the present, with acceptance, without judgment.” These are the four things that Ronda Peterson, athletic trainer at MSUM, writes on the board before every mindfulness session. Peterson aims to teach the ways of mindfulness to students at MSUM and help them be more mindful in their daily lives.

In simple terms, mindfulness is being aware and focusing on surroundings in the present moment.  Every Monday and Wednesday night, Peterson gathers together students to show them how being mindful can help them every day.

“It helps with everything in life, in every setting,” she said.

Peterson has been an athletic trainer at MSUM for 16 years. She came to know about mindfulness after taking a women’s empowerment class eight years ago, where her instructor would have them close their eyes and become aware of their surroundings and have them focus on the here and now.

At the time, it was called awareness instead of mindfulness.

After that class, Peterson became interested and decided to research awareness herself. She found a book, “Full Catastrophe Living,” by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which sparked her interest.

MBSR is a program designed to assist people with pain and other conditions that are difficult to treat in a hospital.

“It kind of just fell into my lap, it wasn’t really anything I was seeking,” she said. “Over the course of about two years, I got more information from different people, and different books about mindfulness.”

Peterson said that she wanted to find something that would help athletes by reducing injuries and increasing athletic and academic performance.

“I had a few athletes be guinea pigs for me, and found that when you are distracted and not in the present, your chances of injury are much higher,” Peterson said.

A few years ago, she and another counselor on campus started a program called Heart Math, which is a computer program that reads heart rate variability.

“This program was more about feedback of what your heart was doing, because your breath and your brain work together with your heart,” she said. “I found that the program wasn’t really working, I wasn’t reaching the people.”

Peterson decided to focus more on mindfulness and bringing that to athletes.

A year ago, Peterson went to Boston, N.Y. for a mindfulness class of her own. The class was based off the book “Full Catastrophe Living,” which is about using your body and mind to face pain, stress, and illness.

“The book is an eight- or 12-week course, and the class that I went to was in the course of five days, it was very intense,” she said.

Once she got back from her class, she decided to start mindfulness with athletes.

“I hand-picked about a dozen athletes from different sports and asked if they would be interested in something like this,” Peterson said. “’Yeah, let’s try it,’ they told me. The only issue I found was finding a time when everyone wasn’t so busy.”

Peterson started to offer mindfulness sessions last year to MSUM athletes in Nemzek and has continued it this year.

Peterson likes to keep each session to about 20 minutes, but she bases it on how she thinks her students are doing during the session.

If they are fidgety and not focused, or if they are relaxed and focused, she will end the session based off of their reaction.

The first few minutes of the sessions are dedicated to getting relaxed and getting rid of the jumble that is in people’s heads from their day. She tries to have them focus on their breath and keep them in the present.

“When you go in the present, and you go into your mindful state, you will make better decisions, and that has been proven over and over again,” she said. “Choices that people make when they are in the present moment are good decisions.”

Throughout the session, Peterson refers back to the four statements she wrote on the board at the beginning.

She tells her students to “just focus on being in the present right now, pay attention to being here and don’t worry about anything else, and if it comes up, give it some space, and accept what it is that you are feeling or thinking, and try not to judge it.”

Different things are done each session.

“We do body scans, line yoga, there’s walking yoga mindfulness and love and kindness mindfulness,” she said. “There’s also standing yoga, standing mindfulness. There’s so much we can do.”

Every Monday and Wednesday night she holds a mindfulness session where all students are welcome. She has even had a student bring their family in to the sessions.

Jake Antolak, a football player for MSUM, attends the mindfulness sessions every week.

“It has helped me a lot with weightlifting,” Antolak said. “I take five minutes before every weightlifting session to get into the zone and I have never been more focused in my entire life. It really keeps you in the moment.”

“My goal for each session is for each person to feel like they did something special for themselves,” Peterson said. “I want each person to feel refreshed and feeling like life is good, and it doesn’t have to be super stressful and such high anxiety all the time. I want them to be patient with themselves and realize that not everything is going to go wrong or right. Just accept what is happening.”

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