Honors Biology Student Tackles and Teaches Mindfulness and Meditation
April 10, 2020

A first-year student in the VCU Honors College, Kirti Sharma has already accumulated a wealth of experience and expertise on the subject of mindfulness and meditation. As a biology major on the pre-med track, Kirti has taken her intrinsic curiosity about the human body and complemented it with a deep understanding and appreciation for the mind-body connection through wellbeing practices.

Kirti’s experience with meditation began early in her childhood. The daughter of a man with a “Ph.D. in Happiness,” Kirti’s family has made mindfulness their mission. “Ever since my childhood,” Kirti explains, “I visit a monastery in northern India every year with my family. There, I participate in many volunteer activities such as cooking and preparing meals for the daily visitors, cleaning guest rooms, and making flower garlands every day at 5:00 a.m. for prayer services. Most importantly, I learned the practice of meditation by attending the daily meditation sessions in the evenings.”

Together with her father, Kirti has taken those carefully honed practices and developed a technique they call study-meditation-study-meditation, or SMSM for short. Using this technique, she is able to switch between studying and meditation, which she says gives her a renewed sense of being “refreshed, focused, and determined to get back to my work.” Moreover, she continues, the benefits extend far beyond that. “Such a break not only relaxes me, but also comes along with other benefits like a better immune system, reduction in chronic stress and pain, [and a] rise of positive thoughts and emotions...”

In high school, Kirti had the opportunity to share her talents and insight with others in a variety of settings. From leading mindfulness sessions for her peers, to teaching stress management and mindfulness courses for rising high school freshmen and leading meditation sessions to children taking martial arts, she is far from inexperienced in finding new and useful ways of conveying such a deep concept as mindfulness to even the youngest of pupils. “For a guided body-scan meditation,” describes Kirti, “I would tell the children to imagine a butterfly and how it flies to the different parts of their body. This would allow the kids to become ‘mindful’ of those parts of their body.”

Now in college, she continues to draw on those experiences and further develop and adapt them to the needs of other college students, especially in the midst of the increased stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking to this crisis, Kirti opens up about her desire to alleviate some of those fears in her peers. “I wanted to share this technique with other students with the hope that it can also help them in some way…Due to the unfortunate coronavirus pandemic, I noticed a rise of stress, fear, and anxiety...emotions that I thought could be minimized with just some mindfulness meditation.”

Therefore, Kirti took the initiative to begin her own Youtube channel on which she shares her tips, tricks, and techniques with others, encouraging them to take a moment for themselves and care for their own wellbeing. Following Kirti’s calm, reassuring guidance, viewers are able to practice mindfulness and meditation, completing sessions such as Alternate Nostril Breathing, “an ancient breathing technique” that Kirti explains can “help in strengthening our immune system, while also reducing stress and anxiety.”

Although Kirti may be an old hand at the practice of meditation, she acknowledges that it does come with its own set of challenges. For example, says Kirti, “the one hurdle I came across at the beginning of my meditation practice was mind-wandering. When meditating, our mind is just like a monkey, it constantly swings from one thought to another and keeps us distracted from what we are supposed to be focusing on, such as the flow of our breath or our body sensations…But with consistent practice, I learned how to develop a focus on the present moment…When we notice our thoughts, let them pass by, and bring back our attention, we are practicing meditation.”

In addition to her wellbeing videos and guiding fellow classmates in body-scan meditation in Honors Flourishing, Kirti has thrown herself into the VCU and Honors communities in a number of other ways. As a member of the Ottens Research Group on VCU’s MCV campus, Kirti as co-authored the review manuscript “The Indirect Mediators of Systemic Health Outcomes Following Nanoparticle Inhalation Exposure,” which she plans to get published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics. She is also a part of Jacobs Lab, AUCTUS: VCU's Undergraduate Research Journal, and the Medical Scientist Training Club (MSTC), on top of having participated in the Honors Freshman Research Institute.

Moreover, she has worked hard to grow her list of personal publications on mindfulness. During her senior year of high school, she published various studies on the “correlation between trait mindfulness and perceived stress in high school teachers” and the importance of “increased awareness about the significance of mindfulness practice in an educational environment.” Her research on mindfulness in cancer patients was published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science, and her recent college research from Honors Rhetoric on “reducing the symptoms of ADHD in adolescents through the combination of a mindfulness-based stress reduction training and methylphenidate medication” has been accepted by the National Conference of Undergraduate Research (NCUR 2020) and the VCU Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity 2020 (UROP).

Going one step further, Kirti has also been participating in “an independent neuroscientific research study to determine the efficacy of meditation.” As such, she has been researching “the effectiveness of three different meditations—mantra, breath, and external point—in an adult population. I used a brain-sensing headband, called Muse, to measure each participant's brain activity as they meditated. Currently, I am working on the write-up and analysis for the publication of this research.”

If one thing is clear, it is Kirti’s incredible ability to learn, adapt, grow, and share her profound skills and insight into the mind-body connection with others. She recognizes Honors Flourishing professor Dr. Christy Tyndall, Honors Graduate Assistant Laura Blunt, and Honors Senior Associate Dean Dr. Jacqueline Smith-Mason for their guidance and support of her efforts thus far. In turn, the Honors College recognizes Kirti for all she has done and continues to do, and we couldn’t be more proud of her or excited to see where life takes her next.

To check out Kirti’s mindfulness videos, visit her Youtube channel!