ASU students find community and mindfulness in SKY meditation and yoga club

April 17, 2020

Not too often do you walk into a room of young adults quietly sitting cross-legged on the floor, giggling among themselves and enthusiastically sharing pieces of their personal life. 

If you’ve ever been to a SKY Happiness Retreat, you’d likely find that to be normal.

From Feb. 21–23, a group of Arizona State University students participated in a free three-day meditation course where students learned sudarshan kriya, an ancient yogic breathing technique that helps practitioners control stress levels, get better quality sleep and improve focus and attention. 

ASU SKY @ ASU club President Dev Patel waits while another participant writes him a note of encouragement at the SKY Happiness Retreat in February.

The SKY Happiness Retreat, run by SKY @ ASU, has certain advantages over other mental health initiatives on campus, according to club vice president Saiarchana Darira. 

“A lot of the mental health organizations I’ve been a part of talk about helping other people with mental health,” Darira said. “But SKY is about helping yourself with mental health.”

Over the course of three days, students learned about different approaches to emotional intelligence, participated in activities that strengthen social connection and worked to develop their leadership skills. 

While the retreat was geared toward empowering the individual, Darira said it was ultimately designed to encourage community building as an integral part of the personal growth. Activities like sharing your life story, writing anonymous compliments to other participants and eye-gazing are developed around this ethos. 

Dev Patel, a business entrepreneurship major who is president of SKY @ ASU, points to a particular activity that he said is the most important to understanding the purpose of the club. At the beginning of the retreat, participants were asked to walk around the room, hug each other and say, “I belong to you.”

Patel said that while it might not be apparent at first, the goal of the activity is to create a sense of belonging.

“A lot of our stress and problems tend to fizzle away when we’re connected with humans,” Patel said. “With human support, everything tends to be uplifted. We do a lot of things on the course that are related to human connection because it’s a huge facet of ourselves that can uplift our whole spirit.”

Since COVID-19 has necessitated social distancing, the student-led club has moved programming and gatherings online, according to the club’s Instagram account.

Arvind Ramachandran, a doctoral student at ASU studying materials science, said that he used to think that meditation and mindfulness weren’t for him.

Now, it’s a tool he can’t live without.

“You can’t control what life throws at you, but what you can control is how you react to it or not react to it,” Ramachandran said. “Bringing awareness to the frequently occurring thoughts in life and how to disarm them peacefully,” he added.

One of his favorite aspects of the course was the mindful eating exercise. Students choose a food — usually a fruit or vegetable —  and are asked to engage their senses in full awareness. Ramachandran said tasting the subtle flavors of a grape was “magical.” 

Ni’Sea Thurman-Wamubu, a justice studies major with a minor in studio art and African studies at ASU, said she already has a meditation practice but that adding new techniques and perspectives “adds spice” to her routine.

The eye-gazing also made a strong impact on her.

“Being able to acknowledge somebody and see them, and seeing yourself see them and letting yourself be vulnerable, there’s so much to be gained from that,” Thurman-Wamubu said. 

Patel said the course aims to help students succeed in their goals and to create a strong foundation for their mental health and happiness during their developmental years. 

“The unique thing about college students is that we’re old enough to face stress but young enough to still change the direction of our lives very quickly,” Patel said.