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Mindfulness goes digital

March 24, 2020

New ASU mindfulness initiative promotes caring, connection during COVID-19 outbreak

As the country adjusts to new work- and learn-from-home routines and increasingly practices social distancing, the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience at Arizona State University is finding ways to help people reconnect and create community online.

This week, the center launched an online mindfulness initiative called “Caring and Connection in the Time of COVID-19.” Led by Teri Pipe, ASU’s chief well-being officer and the founding director of the center, the initiative seeks to bring people together in an online setting to connect, reflect and recharge. 

“The present moment of uncertainty and disruption offers us an opportunity to strengthen our ability to be present and focused, generate sincere care for ourselves and others, and tap into the opportunity not only to get through this, but to become stronger together,” Pipe said.

The heart of the “Caring and Connection” initiative is a live, hourlong mindfulness and meditation session that takes place online, Monday through Friday, from noon to 1 p.m. MST. Each session includes a guided meditation or two, a discussion of the day’s central topic — such as connectedness, compassion for self and others, the benefit of rituals and the power of community — and a chance for participants to ask questions and engage with one another.

The midday mindfulness sessions are streamed live via YouTube, and are open to students, faculty, staff and the public, at no cost. Instructions for accessing the live stream can be found on the center’s website. For those who are unable to join live, video recordings of the daily sessions will be made available on the website.

“We know that health care workers, service workers, families with small children, our older population and those who can’t take time off from work are still important to this ‘culture of care’ community effort,” said Tiara Cash, program manager at the center who specializes in equitable mindfulness. “We want to make sure they can share in this work too.”

Before each mindfulness session begins, Pipe reviews the ground rules with participants. She explains what the intent of the session is, and what it is not: “This is not a support group or therapy session. We are not here to air our personal grievances.”  

Instead, she hopes to create a welcoming, safe space online where people from all backgrounds can connect for an hour of shared contemplation. “I invite everyone to practice with an open mind, without expectation,” she said.

In addition to daily, livestreamed mindfulness sessions, the center is offering mindfulness resources to the public through their website, Facebook group and Instagram. Inspirational articles, practical tips, words of advice and videos are being added to the platforms daily.

Nika Gueci, executive director for university engagement at the center, has been leading the “Caring and Connection” initiative with Pipe. They were inspired to create the initiative after the COVID-19 outbreak necessitated they cancel the center’s annual conference, “Planting Seeds: Rooting in mindfulness for thriving communities.” 

“We realized that people were still craving connection and community to support them through this uncertain time,” Gueci said. They quickly mobilized their efforts around an online platform.  

“These sessions are intended to maintain that idea of the conference: to build community, to share this information with one another, and to come to practice as equals in order to help strengthen and build communities,” Gueci said. 

The messages and practices offered through the initiative are based in principles of mindfulness, which Pipe describes as “the ability to pay attention, with intention, to the present moment.” They are accessible to anyone, regardless of religious or spiritual background, belief system, age, ability, nationality, gender, education or experience with mindfulness. All are welcome and encouraged to participate.

“In this moment, we have an opportunity to expand, extend and include in ways we may not have considered before,” Pipe said. “Let's see how much better we can become as individuals and as a community.”

The Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience was founded by Pipe in 2017 for the purpose of connecting researchers, scholars, teachers, practitioners and learners around the concepts of mindfulness, compassion and well-being. At the center, ASU students and researchers examine the impacts of mindfulness across a wide range of areas, including social relationships, social justice, neuroscience, aging, well-being and immune function.

Additional mindfulness resources

Top image courtesy of

Katherine Reedy

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COVID-19 may alter the future of how we navigate work and leisure

March 24, 2020

Editor’s note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

There has been a significant drop in automobile use both across Arizona and throughout the country in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

According to Ram Pendyala, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University, Phoenix traffic may have reduced by 30% or more since schools closed and businesses encouraged workers to stay home to help control the spread of the virus.

“Many people are working remotely as part of social distancing measures to combat COVID-19,” Pendyala said. “And that mandated isolation certainly has an impact on human activity. From a transportation perspective, it means reduced traffic and energy consumption, cleaner air and less wear and tear on our roads — all good things for sustainability.

“But the lack of traffic is not really a good thing. Traffic is a sign of economic and social vitality. Mobility is a sign that people are interacting with each other, businesses are thriving and society is functioning. It’s only the adverse effects of traffic that we don’t want.”

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Ram Pendyala

Forecasting travel demand to better manage traffic, promote sustainable transportation and support infrastructure planning is a focus of Pendyala’s work as a professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

His research into human preferences and behaviors related to transportation offers insights on the impact of social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak in America.

“For example, this experience could prompt us to think differently about the nature of work in the future,” Pendyala said. “On the one hand, we all enjoy the first weeks of telecommuting. But then workers begin to feel isolated and employers start getting concerned about productivity. We might see some increase in people working remotely on a permanent basis, but likely for only a part of each week, as opposed to the full-time telecommuting we see now.”

Pendyala also points out that public transportation ridership has dropped by as much as 60% during recent weeks. Though transport agencies like Valley Metro have instituted more stringent disinfection protocols, public fear is widespread and difficult to overcome.

Even alternatives to public transportation from ride-sharing services to micro-mobility are suffering, as people grapple with uncertainty about how the new coronavirus is transmitted.

“Do you want to get into the Uber or Lyft vehicle that has served other passengers? Are you going to use the scooter that so many other people have handled? Are you carrying disinfectant wipes with you everywhere you go?” Pendyala said. “These are questions that we’re asking now.”

Pendyala explains that the impact of COVID-19 may alter logistics services too, as people begin to have more goods delivered to them rather than driving to a local retailer where they would jostle with crowds.

“But those packages are handled by many sets of human hands. Are we going to see more robotic handling of our packages?” he said. “All of these issues are part of the discussion.”

Pendyala notes that these initial weeks of disruption can have a significant impact on how we plan to spend our time.

“But much depends on the duration of this state of affairs,” he said. “If virus-driven restrictions are lifted in a month or so, you will see people rebound to their previous habits rather quickly. They’ll return to the office and go shopping for that furniture they delayed buying. At the same time, we could see a sudden surge in leisure travel. There could be so much pent-up demand that people will rush out to ball games or take that trip to Disneyland.”

By contrast, Pendyala said that if efforts to control the virus limit our lives for a longer period, such as a year or more, the changes to our routines may become more lasting. 

“For example, the closure of restaurants, movie theaters and similar establishments has many of us rethinking recreational experience,” he explains. “So, people may look to enjoy more time in the great outdoors, both now and in the longer term.”

Though even if more of us begin to embrace activities like hiking and camping, the way we travel to our favorite coasts, mountains and national parks could change in the wake of the current crisis.

“Airlines have been decimated by COVID-19,” Pendyala said. “People are concerned about sharing tight spaces with others, and that mindset may persist for a while. Consequently, air travel could take quite some time to recover. Alternatively, cars give us a sense of control over our surroundings. So, we could see a real increase in driving for medium-distance and even long-distance travel.”

In the end, Pendyala believes that we are not likely to see enormous, lasting effects on daily life.

“As the world recovers from the virus, we’ll all go back to spending a third of our lives earning a livelihood. The kids will be back in school and we’ll want to connect with friends and family just as we always did,” he said. “The return of these rhythms of life means that any permanent changes from the virus will likely be rather modest.”

Top photo: Social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced traffic across the country — such as along this stretch of the 101 freeway near Tempe, Arizona — since schools have closed, travel plans have been canceled and more people work from home. Photo by Erik Wirtanen/ASU

Gary Werner

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering