Bringing Mindfulness Online for an Unusually Challenging Time
By Eleni N. Gage
For Melissa Carter, interim senior director of Global Spiritual Life, head of mindfulness education and programming for MindfulNYU, and an adjunct professor at the Silver School of Social Work, the personal is professional. “I’ve never been able to separate my passions, interests, and curiosities from the way I serve the world,” she says.
Her love of music led her to become a music executive (one of Billboard’s 30 Under 30). She was flying from the Grammys to shows at Yankee Stadium, but something was missing. “You would think I was living this huge life,” Carter says. “But I was 30 years old, morbidly obese, and walking with a cane. I was struggling with suicidal ideation.”
Knowing she needed a change, Carter made a list of her skills: marketing, networking, helping people. She carved out a new path as a personal trainer, holistic lifestyle coach, and birth and death doula before accepting her current position at NYU. It’s a job that allows her to fulfill her goal to create inclusive communities and introduce others to the tools that helped her “deal with my own anxieties and mental health struggles,” she says. “Not just mindfulness, but self-regulation and self-care.”
Carter was already providing those tools to the NYU community—through MindfulNYU’s yoga and meditation programming; Global Spiritual Life’s interfaith lecture series and other resources; and her “Mindful Minute” YouTube videos that guide viewers through calming tools like deep breathing—when COVID-19 hit and the university emptied out.
Carter revved into high gear. “We began to dig more into the needs of the community in the current moment,” she says. They moved mindfulness, meditation, and yoga classes online; offering virtual access to the spiritual life advisers; and hosting the Mindful Activism Program speaker series virtually.
The results are stellar. “Global Spiritual Life is definitely more in demand,” says Carter. It has also created a surprisingly resilient sense of community. “All divisions of the school, from Athletics to the Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation to the LGBTQ+ Center to Global Spiritual Life, have become this grounded home of consistency,” says Carter. “We usually don’t have a summer yoga and meditation program, but this year we kept it going. The idea is that we’re in this together, and wherever you are, you have a place to come be with the community and to have some of that to help you through.”