How UCLA’s online mindful meditation retreat changed one skeptic’s opinion

2020 has been a doozy of a year. A survey from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that 40 percent of adults in the U.S. experienced adverse mental health, like feelings of being stressed or overwhelmed, due to the lockdown this year. 

In The Know’s Paul Lazo was no exception himself, the only trouble was all of his usual stress management strategies like live events and going to the gym had closed. When his roommate suggested he try meditation, he was skeptical. But after completing one of UCLA’s online mindfulness meditation retreats, Paul is now a believer. 

“If you’re anything like me, when you think of meditating you might think: It’s not for me or it’s hokey. Why would I want to sit down for hours on end in complete silence?” Paul said.

But at the height of the pandemic, Paul decided to give meditation a chance. 

“My usual coping mechanisms for stress are usually entirely physical,” Paul said. “When I get overwhelmed with my life I can often be found at the gym or dancing at a concert. But in March, with gym closures and live events canceled I immediately felt my mental health suffering.”

Paul signed up for a mindfulness retreat at UCLA. The 15-year-old program connects people all over the world for a weekend of wellness courses. 

“We’ve been doing all sorts of programs that include retreats,” Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education, told In The Know. “We did live retreats where we used to go away to a beautiful place and we have offered classes in person at UCLA and around the Los Angles community for a long time.” 

After the pandemic struck, the program offered virtual events for the first time.

“We found that it was really a lovely way for people to practice from all around the world,” Winston said. 

Although home may not have been the ideal place to conduct the classes, UCLA didn’t change much about the syllabus. 

“The programming includes art therapy, outdoor recreation and even some Zoom dance parties,” Paul said. 

Winston admitted that meditation can be discouraging at first since your mind can wander. But that’s just a part of the process. 

“As you do it over time, your ability to pay attention improves,” Winston said. “You have to do it, you have to practice it and if it is something that appeals to you, it can be a helpful tool for both physical and mental health.” 

According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation can help you create new perspectives on stressful situations while also enhancing your imagination, ability to focus and creativity. 

If you liked this article, you might like to read about the bath elixir one editor uses to wind down at night.

More from In The Know:

TikTokers are sharing the most unique life hacks they learned as children

This inclusive skincare brand wants to give melanin-rich skin the attention it deserves

19 of the coolest puzzles to do when boredom sets in this winter

8 women-owned brands you can support today (and every day, really)