EP71 Mindfulness and Meditation with Dr. LeConté Dill

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I AM GPH EP71 Mindfulness and Meditation with Dr. LeConté Dill

EP71 Mindfulness and Meditation with Dr. LeConté Dill

Alexandra Arriaga: Hello everyone, you're listening to I Am GPH. My name is Alexandra Arriaga and I'm really excited about today's episode, because it explores mindfulness, meditation, ways for students to be mindful, and even a guided meditation at the very end. Our guest and guide is Dr. LeConté Dill, a native of South Central Los Angeles, who is currently creating a home place in Brooklyn. She holds degrees from Spelman College, UCLA and UC Berkeley. Dr. Dill is a scholar, educator and poet focusing on violence prevention, resilience and wellness, particularly for urban black girls and other youth of color. Currently Dr. Dill is a clinical associate professor in the department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and director of Public Health Practice at the New York University College of Global Public Health. If you'd like to learn more about resources available to you, and jumpstart your medication practice, please stay tuned. Hello everyone and welcome back to I Am GPH. Today I have a very special guest. It is LeConté Dill, and today she is going to talk a lot about meditation and mindfulness. So, I think it will be a pretty relaxing episode. How are you doing LeConté?

LeConté Dill: I'm good. How are you?

Alexandra Arriaga: I'm doing great.

LeConté Dill: Good.

Alexandra Arriaga: So can you please tell us a little bit about your background?

LeConté Dill: Sure. I am a Cali Girl, I'm born and raised in South Central LA, and that's really important to my identity. South Central has been stigmatized just throughout history and in the media, but I'm very proud to be there, and a lot of my work, but also just my life, is around that South Central LA and other cities. Cities that are stigmatized, other urban cities have resilience, have assets, have positive features. So, I was born and raised there, as well as my mom, my aunts and uncles and cousins. My grandparents migrated to LA in the 1940's from the South. And so I feel like I am rooted in the South, but I am a proud Californian. But now living in New York. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Nice.

LeConté Dill: I am a professor here. I am a clinical associate professor in the department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and I'm also the director of Public Health Practice. And I really feel that, being here at GPH, I'm able to bring a lot of my experiences, growing up in LA, being a public health practitioner in the field, being a researcher, being a poet - I'll talk about that a little bit more...

Alexandra Arriaga: Ooh.

LeConté Dill: I feel like I'm able to bring all of that into my role here, as I teach and mentor students, as I help support students with their internships. Yeah, that's a little bit about me. 

Alexandra Arriaga: I'm glad to know that. So East Coast or West Coast?

LeConté Dill: Definitely West Coast. 

Alexandra Arriaga: (Laughter)

LeConté Dill: But I am a bit of a nomad, so I like being in new spaces and experiencing new adventures.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

LeConté Dill: I'm married to a New Yorker, so like, we definitely have East Coast-West Coast rivalry in the house. But this is becoming a home to me. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, why not both. 

LeConté Dill: Yeah exactly.

Alexandra Arriaga: You can have both. So can you tell us: What is mindfulness? What is meditation? And what roles can these play in our lives?

LeConté Dill: Sure. So being mindful, really means being aware. That means being aware of your thoughts, of the senses, of your body. I think it's also important to think that being mindful, means being gentle with yourself. Being nurturing, to yourself. A big take away around mindfulness is the breath, and to remember our breath. When I first got into meditation, I was hesitant for a while. I didn't think I knew how to do it correctly. I was looking for the perfect script, or the perfect book, and this perfection that doesn't really exist. And so I was really hesitant to do it. But when I finally started practicing it was because, when you stress you hold your breath, you clinch your teeth-

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

LeConté Dill: Your shoulders go up to your ears. You literally are, I mean you are breathing, because you're human, but you are kind of holding your breath and-

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

LeConté Dill: Holding your chest tightly. And so, mindfulness is remembering your breath, what breath gives us through our life, and thinking how our breath journeys throughout our body. And what I remind students, about mindfulness, is that you don't have to have a certificate to do it, you don't have to be a quote unquote perfectionist or expert, but you can actually bring your own lived experiences to the ways that you breathe, to the ways that you contemplate, to the ways that you be mindful and aware. And I think that is more important, because you are the expert of you. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Right. That is so true.

LeConté Dill: Yeah.

Alexandra Arriaga: I guess it's just weird because when people think about mindfulness, or at least me, I'm not going to talk for everyone, but it just seems like something, that you need this level of you know, zen, like you need to be so enlightened to be able to constantly have this like, light within you and I guess I would like to see the simplified version of that.

LeConté Dill: Yeah

Alexandra Arriaga: And a lot of people don't know where to start. So, how do you start?

LeConté Dill: So, for example, I work with a couple of students here, as graduate research assistants and we're doing a lot of research around violence and that is stressful. It is stressful to read 35-page articles about violence or YouTube clips of panels talking about different forms of violence. And so, although this work is important to enhance our public health research, it is important for us to take care of ourselves before and while we are engaging in this research. So one quick thing that we've done throughout this year, is to actually start our research team meetings with like five minutes of breathing.

Alexandra Arriaga: I love that. 

LeConté Dill: I like to breathe, with either a guided meditation tape or with music, just play music, and literally closing your eyes. We get to practice some of this with everyone listening later, but closing your eyes and like I said, remembering your breath. So what does that mean to remember? What does that mean to trace your breath; where is it going in your body? And it is funny, when you start doing that, five minutes is kind of short to do. We do a lot of things that are more than five minutes and you recognize that like, "Oh, that went by really quickly", you know. New York City is busy.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yes.

LeConté Dill: And the hustle and bustle of the city, can sometime causes stress, so I think sometimes, to your question, it's hard sometimes to think about - how can I be zen in this chaos. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Right. 

LeConté Dill: But because we spend a lot of time underground on trains-

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

LeConté Dill: That gives us 20, 30, 40 minutes, right? And not that you have to zone out, and like close your eyes and be breathing, but you know, we usually have our EarPods in our ears, or listening to music, or something.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

LeConté Dill: And if you are closing your eyes, no one on the train is going to care or notice, because- 

Alexandra Arriaga: No one cares anyway. 

LeConté Dill: And so, just thinking about how we can kind of reclaim our time in our commute in New York, the zen nature can be within us. It doesn't have to be external, I have to go to a mountain top or to a retreat, it's like the retreat within ourself. That five minutes, that ten minutes, that pause. 

Alexandra Arriaga: I love that. 

LeConté Dill: Yeah. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. Reclaiming my commute. That's what I need. There needs to be like a meditation MTA edition.

LeConté Dill: Yeah.

Alexandra Arriaga: Specifically for a subway, that would be great. I actually started listening to this great meditation channel. It's actually a podcast. It's called Just 10 Minutes, by this girl called Samantha Reyes.

LeConté Dill: Okay.

Alexandra Arriaga: And, oh my God, it's so good.

LeConté Dill: I'm always excited to hear about new resources. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Yes, and these are just ten minute guided meditations, and I find them to be super useful. I mean, I really like it. After you're done you just feel more relaxed and I feel like it really helps. 

LeConté Dill: I think also, meditation is just one tool, of being mindful. Some people also talk about, what they say, contemplative practices. And those don't just have to be being still. You can visualize images, you can come up with a song, you can listen to music, like I said. You can chant, you can dance, you can move. There's a lot of different practices in yoga, in meditation, in mindfulness, that actually are not quiet - are loud. Engage movement or not just being still. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

LeConté Dill: And so, I think it is about trying on a few different tools and techniques, adding those tools into, what I call your toolkit, and then using what works for you. Like your practice might look different than someone else's. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Right. I like that. I guess, I always thought that all meditation practices were just someone sitting down for twenty minutes in absolute silence. 

LeConté Dill: Yeah. That's what I thought at first but because there's so many practices globally, particularly, you know, the continent of Africa, Asia etc, there are so many traditions. There's indigenous traditions in the US that we can learn from, right. And that we can add to. So there's no one right way, if you are a student of a particular lineage or tradition, of course there's tenets, just like if you're a student of public health, there is traditions and theories, but I want to encourage folks to dismiss or get rid of, like, I'm not doing it right. Because, then that just keeps us away from breathing.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

LeConté Dill: Right. Or from moving, or from being still, or from pausing. 

Alexandra Arriaga: And speaking about more specific things that we can implement; When a stressful crunch time is approaching, like midterms or finals, something super stressful like that, what are some practical things that students can do to prepare ahead of time to reduce stress?

LeConté Dill: Yeah, so, I've begun actually offering a meditation session for our students, and staff have also come, during finals. So during finals, in the winter and in the spring, I offered a 30 minute meditation session in the student space. And that was great because some people had been meditating before, and some people had never done it, but to take 30 minutes for ourselves and just breathe, to set intentions, so thinking about finals - what do we want to welcome in, what kind of performance do we want to have on this test or assignment, what kind of grade do we want to visualize and imagine, and just have time to kind of envision, if you will, during that session, and just connect with your breath. So being able to, in my interactions with students, I see students being stressed. I know that as faculty, we're stressed too, like academia is a lot, but I physically see students, like I said, with like, their mouths clinched, their shoulders up, their chest tight. And so, I want to like offer a pause. So, I think going to guided meditations, like I said, I've offered a couple, but there's a lot of resources. NYU has tons of resources, so that I'm also getting to know, but students might even be more savvy of the resources, so the Wellness Exchange here, has apps, has 24 hour hotlines. Mindful NYU similarly has workshops, has apps, has techniques. And so, a lot of them are accessible on the web, or downloadable application to even practice a breathing technique, or go to the meditation rooms that are around campus, or to go to workshops that are offered.

Alexandra Arriaga: I feel like some people don't know about the meditation rooms. 

LeConté Dill: Yeah. So I was showed them, when I first came here, by HR. But I talk about them a lot, but I haven't used the ones here, but they are like around campus. And so, I'm excited, when the school year starts, to actually practice what I preach, and go to them, particularly because they're right here, and not every school has that. And I mentioned engaging in meditation with students and staff, but several faculty have anecdotally shared that "Hey, we need this too, like we need some times to pause, we need meditation sessions", so we've thought about actually getting some of the staff from Mindful NYU to come to a faculty meeting, or having a separate workshop. 

Alexandra Arriaga: I think a lot of people would be interested in that. 

LeConté Dill: Yeah. 

Alexandra Arriaga: And then, okay so pursuing a college degree and figuring our career plans can be wonderful yet very, very stressful. I can attest to that. Are there any things we can do, or remind ourselves to make this journey easier?

LeConté Dill: Yeah, so I think, as I mentioned in the beginning, being gentle, and being nurturing to ourselves. So grad school, undergrad and grad school, are very stressful, but I think it is important to thank ourselves for taking the initiative to sign up for this journey. And starting with that gratitude for ourself, I think that, like I said, setting intention, so even if it's the start of the semester or the start of each week. Some people talk about having like, a Sunday meeting, a Sunday evening meeting with yourself. Where you journal, where you write, where you kind of set your intentions of - this is the kind of week I want to have, these are the kind of activities I want to engage in, these are the kind of goals I hope to accomplish, so then at least you're being clear about what you want to do. That's not necessarily about; this test is on Friday, or this assignment is due, but this is like, what kind of scholar do I want to be?

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

LeConté Dill: What kind of student do I want to be? How do I want to engage with my classmates or my friends?

Alexandra Arriaga: Like your inner agenda.

LeConté Dill: Yeah. I like that. And, communication I think is really important. I know that sometimes, or a lot of the times, faculty hold a lot of power and privilege and sometimes for students, it's intimidating to like, access this professor. But a lot of our faculty here, are very accessible, very approachable, and I think faculty-student relationships are about building this relationship. I refer to students as co-learners, in although I am a professor and I have several letters after my name, I'm still learning, and I learn a lot from my students. As much as I hope to impart knowledge onto them, so like, let's learn together. And so, for student that is you know, embarking on this semester and embarking on a degree, I think what might help with the stress of school, is to think about what kind of relationships they want to nurture with faculty and then have conversations. Like, if it's not in class, if that's too busy, you know, classes - it's pretty packed and then you have to leave, set up office hours, set up tea time. Some faculty sometimes do Skype or Google Hangouts, if you can't see them face to face, but that relationship will also kind of dispel some of the confusion. Like, I didn't really understand that concept, or you know, we started that discussion in class but I still had questions. Or I'm working on my assignment and I feel a little stuck. And that is normal. Like, we are human. And like I said, we are learners together. So I think though having conversations, if not with your faculty, but also, think of your classmates as part of your community, as your village. That's your team, that's your bench. So, let's work together, let's have more study groups, let's have brainstorming think sessions. And talk more. Wrestle. Like I think, it's okay to have questions. Like, having questions is not a bad, you know, often times when people ask questions, they're like "This is a dumb question, and this might be a silly question", no I think we need to continue to have questions. Questions is what makes us scholars. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. 

LeConté Dill: And learners. And so asking questions, helps to answer the confusion and the stress that might be percolating inside of us. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Absolutely. And so, besides what we talked about the meditation rooms and sessions with you, which I will be attending, what other resources at NYU are there for students to learn more about meditation, mental health and wellness?

LeConté Dill: Yeah, so I have witnessed a lot of students forming their own support systems, just by hanging out like, at the student space, right. Or engaging with the fabulous Student Affairs staff. Thinking again, of your classmates, not as competitors, not that person that just sits by you, but as part of your team. I mentioned before but I want to reiterate, the Wellness Exchange at NYU is an important resource. So if you just Google, Wellness Exchange NYU, there is a website, there is a 24 hour phone hotline, there is an app you can download on Android or iPhone. Mindful NYU is another related resource, with workshops, with meditation rooms and spaces with online resources and apps. There's a lot of other websites, or apps, that I've used, so I think it's also important to kind of refer things, like, "Oh, I've found this helpful".  So, it's interesting. I talked about, originally being hesitant to meditate, like 10 years ago. I was like, I don't do that, I can't do that, or I don't know how to do that right, or that's for hippies and I don't have time for that. And now I'm like, I have five apps on my phone, I do workshops. And so, some apps and resources I've used are; Buddhify, Liberate - is an app that was created by meditators and facilitators of color, and so they have short five minute guided meditations to 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes, and so you can kind of pick what works for you, and it's focused to communities of color. Insight Timer - which I like because it is a timer and not that we should be guided by time, but it has like, a bell or whistle that dings at a certain time and you can also track your progress. So you can like see, like "Oh, I meditated three times this week, I meditated five times this week". And it connects you to a whole network locally but also like nationally and globally, like, " Oh, there's fifty other people meditating in Brooklyn, like maybe we can plan meet ups". That kind of thing. 

Alexandra Arriaga: Oh. That's so cool.

LeConté Dill: Yeah. There's a ton of resources and websites, and I love to learn more, I'm learning from you, I learn from students, I learn from others. And so, I think again it's about building that toolkit.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, absolutely. Well, now you can check out the one I like. 

LeConté Dill: Yes.

Alexandra Arriaga: The Just 10 Minutes. I like that one. Because it's just ten minutes, you know. 

LeConté Dill: Exactly. Exactly.