While a large majority of the Springfield College student population departed the campus on President’s Day weekend, 20 students remained to practice their breathing in order to master the power of YES+. These students composed the first group to experience SC’s version of YES+, a global, interactive workshop that was initiated by graduate student Rahul Sharma.
“The idea behind it is that everyone has an enlightened side,” Sharma said.
YES stands for “Your Enlightened Side,” and the plus stands for “and more.” The purpose of the workshop, which is present in over 50 U.S. colleges, is to promote increased awareness to the tendencies of the mind and work towards 100 percent awareness. It also emphasizes stress management, leadership and empowerment. These characteristics are explored and hopefully gained throughout the four to six-day workshop (four in this case), in which participants practice breathing exercises, yoga and meditation.
“You walk out with some of these really tangible skills that you can use, and then there’s also just a lot of awareness brought in to your own tendencies,” Sharma said.
Sharma, who returned to college and graduate school at SC to pursue a Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree after working at his own company in New York for 10 years upon graduating from UMass, was the mastermind behind the workshop’s emergence at the college. After arriving at SC, he was immediately drawn to the spirit, mind and body philosophy and was impressed with the school’s dedication to service. He said that SC was a good fit for introducing the powerful workshop that he first experienced five years ago at the Art of Living Center in New York.
After experiencing the workshop as a participant, Sharma applied and became a teacher of the YES+ program, a position that he decided to put to good use by bringing the program to SC with the help of the United Campus Ministry and Spiritual Life Center.
“The teacher training is really one of probably the greatest self-development things I’ve ever done,” Sharma said. “It’s more than just being able to deliver the content. It’s also at a certain level to be able to deliver from the heart, in an authentic way.”
YES+ is all about being authentic. It requires an open mind, pushes participants to identify what keeps them from being in their enlightened state at all times and challenges them to strive towards residing in that state for more than just isolated moments.
“You’re always going to have events in your life. Whatever’s bothering you now, when it goes away, what’s going to happen? Are you just going to be happy? No, there’ll be something else,” Sharma said.
The harsh reality is that it is impossible to avoid experiencing negative events throughout life. Instead, this workshop stresses that it is essential to have a healthy state of mind and positive outlook in spite of whatever is causing stress, hurt or worry.
“It’s turning your old perspectives on life and your old perspectives on every day and rewriting them and turning them into something new,” sophomore and participant Mike Breault said.
Sharma, who is a relatively new teacher, enlisted the assistance of his first teacher and one-time director of the program, Poonam Tandon, to help him lead the workshop. He said that the workshop is very experiential and encourages active participation.
“I can talk to you about living it [Your Enlightened Side] 100 percent, or I can talk to you about this or that, but it doesn’t really have much value if you’re not able to really experience it and feel it for yourself,” Sharma said.
One of the key activities that the group practiced was Sudarshan Kriya, a core breathing technique that leads to a deep state of meditation. It stands for “proper vision purifying action,” and is meant to help clear vision and worry and instead focus on enlightened thoughts. The various group activities and exercises that the participants performed helped them to learn more about stress management, leadership and empowerment, which according to Sharma, are all byproducts of a healthy state of mind. Often times, the students were asked to participate in activities that were not always comfortable.
“They really put you in a lot of tight places. [They] really have a lot of uncomfortable questions that you had to deal with inside of you and then you had to bring them out of you and use them in group work and group activities, and it really just incorporates a lot of leadership skills,” Breault said.
Yet by plunging into these uncomfortable situations, the students gained a refreshing, newfound sense of enlightenment and positivity. Breault said that he had to go to the hospital for a toe infection on Tuesday after the workshop, but thanks to what he learned at YES+, he was able to remain in high spirits instead of getting bogged down by the negativity of the situation.
Sharma hopes to continue the program’s success by hosting the workshop again sometime in the future. Although the program is usually $250, SC students only paid a $20 expenses fee. They were accepted on a rolling basis after submitting applications.
“This is a program for you, about you, that just wants to work for you,” Breault said. “They take spirituality and philosophy to another level and they integrate it into this workshop.”