'Happiness Program' bringing yoga, meditation techniques to UF campus

Published: Monday, April 7, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 7, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.

The evening Camille Mekwinski learned about a course called YES+ being offered on the University of Florida campus, she had a “statics” assignment due later that night.


If you go
What: YES+ course, offered by Art of Living
Where: University of Florida
Course dates: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evening, 6-9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: $250
To sign up: http://secure.artofliving.org/course_details.aspx?course_id=16421 or email yesplusgators@gmail.com

“I went to an intro session. It was great — we learned a breathing technique and did a little bit of yoga and meditation,” said Mekwinski, now a UF senior in environmental engineering.

“Afterwards I felt really relaxed, which was good because I was getting really stressed out about my assignment. (The intro session) helped clear my mind.”

Mekwinski’s experience is, in a nutshell, what the course aims to do.

YES+, which is also called “the Happiness Program,” is one of the many courses offered by an international organization called the Art of Living, which is based in India but has centers all over the world.

The $250 courses include some meditation and yoga, but what makes the program unique, members say, is the teaching of an ancient rhythmic breathing technique called the Sudarshan Kriya.

“(The technique) helps clean out the body and calm down the mind, and also balances the emotions,” said Annelies Richmond, one of the first teachers of the YES+ course, which is targeted at college-age students and young professionals but open to people of all ages.

Richmond, who is based in Virginia Beach, Va., will be traveling to Gainesville this week to teach the course, which still has seats available.

Richmond added that the breathing technique helps guide people into meditation, a task that can otherwise be hard to achieve in a society that’s inundated with nonstop communication, from text messages and emails to YouTube videos and round-the-clock news broadcasts.

“You need some tools to take you into meditation in this day and age,” Richmond said, adding that the technique also is said to bring more joy and energy to peoples’ lives.

“That’s why it’s called the Art of Living (organization). It’s about opening peoples’ eyes ... connecting them to their true self and deeper purpose in life.”

The course lasts five days, starting Wednesday evening, and is held weekday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Apart from the breathing technique, yoga and meditation, there are a lot of interactive, community-building activities, Richmond said. That’s important because after taking the course, people can continue to attend weekly follow-up sessions for free — wherever they happen to be.

Also, even though it lasts only five days, many people experience it as a retreat, Richmond said.

That’s how Mekwinski described her experience.

“It’s like a vacation even though it’s still on campus,” she said.

Mekwinski continues to practice with the Gainesville group every week, and she has become more involved with the organization, taking other retreats in silence and volunteering in India.

She said the breathing technique has helped her concentrate more on her schoolwork and also appreciate the present moment. She said she thinks a lot of students could benefit from what the course has to offer.

“When I walk by, a lot of students seem rushed and stressed out,” she said. “But college is a once in a life. I don’t want them to realize that afterwards. They need to learn to enjoy the present moment.”

For more information or to sign up for the course: http://tinyurl.com/yesplusworkshop.

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