Potential course would promote serenity

A religion professor wants to teach meditation in a new class.

Shigenori Nagatomo hopes to establish a new course about meditation. | courtesy SHIGENORI NAGATOMO
Shigenori Nagatomo hopes to establish a new course about meditation. | courtesy SHIGENORI NAGATOMO
Shigenori Nagatomo hopes to establish a new course about meditation. | courtesy SHIGENORI NAGATOMO
Shigenori Nagatomo hopes to establish a new course about meditation. | courtesy SHIGENORI NAGATOMO

Shigenori Nagatomo said he knows college can be stressful, so he’s proposing a course he believes will help. 

Nagatomo, who’s been a professor of religion for 26 years, said he plans to call the course “Total Awareness: Meditation and Well-Being.” The goal is for students to approach, as the title suggests, “total awareness,” otherwise described as balance of the mind, body and spirit, through meditation and the foundational texts of Yoga, Buddhism and Daoism.

“We have a lot of technology to manage things outside of ourselves, but school doesn’t teach us how to manage ourselves or our emotions,” Nagatomo said. “Meditation is the way of entering that domain.”

Nagatomo, who received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Hawaii and has written and translated more than 10 books, said he believes this course has the potential to benefit many students psychologically. He stressed that students don’t always need to rely on prescription medication to deal with psychological issues, of which many students at Temple suffer, he said.

“At the beginning of each semester I distribute a sheet of paper and ask students to jot down whatever issues or concerns bother them,” Nagatomo said. “Many students at Temple [say they]  have a lot of anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.”

Many of these students approach Nagatomo outside of class with concerns about their issues in hopes that proper breathing and meditation can alleviate the stress, he said.

“Most people who have this anxiety issue have their energy stored in their head,” Nagatomo said. “I teach them to bring their energy down. If you learn to do that, then you won’t become as anxious.”

Through “Total Awareness: Meditation and Well-Being,” Nagatomo said he would teach the importance of dispersing energy equally throughout the body. He emphasized that this can be achieved with a strong connection between the mind and the body.

“Stress is a very difficult thing to deal with because we have a body,” he said. “For example, when you’re really upset, you may not be able to eat because your stomach isn’t working right. Mediation is related to how to regulate your body by way of breathing. Breathing is very, very important because it is connected to activity of internal organs and how you maintain your emotional state.”

Nagatomo said many students whom he’s taught in his religion courses have already benefited from various breathing exercises he informed them about, which are derived from meditation. One of them is Jackson Lukas, who graduated from Temple in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

“There was an experiential or kinesthetic part of philosophy that I longed for,” Lukas said. “Nagatomo’s classes had that element in them, and so I became totally fascinated with the material we covered in his class.”

Lukas also met with Nagatomo outside of class, which he said many students have also done. The professor works to help students develop their awareness of meditation.

“[Nagatomo] will use his understanding of meditation and psychology and prescribe to the student some breathing method to practice for 15 minutes a day for two weeks,” Lukas said. “At the end of those two weeks, students will come back to [Nagatomo] and say really amazing things about the breathing method or meditation and how it functioned to make them feel a world better.”

If “Total Awareness: Meditation and Well-Being” is approved to become a course, Nagatomo said he could more efficiently increase this knowledge among the student body. However, Nagatomo wrote the course proposal two years ago and it has taken more time than expected to move through the course proposal system to the General Education Executive Committee, the board that accepts or rejects new gen-ed classes.

At one point, Nagatomo said, he was told his proposal was lost in the process of review.

It is likely that more students would take the course if it was offered as a gen-ed, Nagatomo said, but the process would be much slower than if he chooses to propose it as a religion course.

“I would have to wait two years,” Nagatomo said. “I don’t know if I have the patience, because I’ve already waited for two years.”

Lukas said he believes the class would be of value to the student body.

“I think if students started properly meditating for 15 or 20 minutes a day, or five, however much they can, it would be great,” Lukas said. “But they should have some intellectual understanding of the practice to serve as inspiration and guidance, which is why Nagatomo’s new course is so crucial.”

Claire Sasko can be reached at claire.sasko@temple.edu.

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