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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students embrace Hindu philosophy on relaxation

Published: September 19, 2014
Section: News

On the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 16, in the Swig Lounge of the Intercultural Center, was held on the subject of stress management and its relation to spirituality and Hinduism. The event was open to Brandeis students of all faiths, as well as members of the local community.

Though it is still early in the semester and average stress levels should be relatively low, they have the potential to skyrocket quickly as workloads escalate and schedules become busy. Vaishali Gupta, the Hindu Chaplain at Brandeis, observed that in a college environment, “the base of life is so fast” and students have a tendency to become very stressed. It becomes a habit, she explained. As such, Gupta believes it is valuable for students to have as many strategies for coping with stress as possible.

“I was curious about the spiritual approach,” she said.

She hoped the evening’s discussion would introduce students to a useful new relaxation technique.

The event was sponsored by Namaskar, the Brandeis organization devoted to promoting and educating students on Hindu, Jain and Sikh culture and spiritual heritage.

Romapada Swami led the discussion about stress relief. Born a Christian, Swami was introduced to Krishna consciousness while in school and soon thereafter decided to dedicate his life to “giving back what [he] received,” through his spiritual awakening. His presentation took on several forms. He concentrated on the spiritual approach to stress relief, but discussed psychological and biological matters as well. He compared the differences between healthy stress and toxic stress and discussed the dangerous tipping point at which stress no longer serves as a motivator but as an inhibitor of progress. He detailed the steps to take when confronted with a stressful situation. He explained that “life throws rocks,” but that we can either complain, use the rocks to beat ourselves up, or we can throw them in the air and consider our options and proceed calmly. His talk also featured a relatively in-depth analysis of the human nervous system and the way it functions in stressful situations.

At the close of the presentation, each attendee was handed a set of mala prayer beads and Swami led a brief meditation. He instructed the room on the way to hold the beads and explained the way to rotate a bead back and forth between two fingers, creating subtle friction. He then invited the room to join him in chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and to listen for the “sound vibrations.”

Throughout the lecture, Swami sought to teach his audience how to achieve inner calm. Among the stories he shared during his lecture, perhaps the most powerful was the tale of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. During his time in a concentration camp, he was confronted horribly stressful situations, but continued to believe his life had meaning, that he had a purpose in the world. Following the war, he became devoted to helping others understand these truths and value life even in stressful situations.

“The last of man’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude that we carry in facing challenges,” said Swami, emphasizing that inner calm and contentedness is essential to coping with stress.

For some time now, there has been controversy surrounding Namaskar, and its ability to gather for worship at Brandeis. Last winter, several Hindu deities were to be installed in the Protestant chapel on campus accompanied by a ceremony held to dedicate the altar for Hindu worship. Members of the Protestant community, however, voiced concerns about the prospect of a shared religious space and upon further discussion, the administration decided the space would remain limited to Protestant use.

As it stands, there is no permanent space on campus designated for Hindu worship. When asked how Tuesday evening’s event figures into this greater situation, Gupta explained that though Namaskar has had difficulty securing a space for worship, they always have ample access to spaces to hold lectures, discussions and other events. Gupta said she has a positive outlook on the progress being made in talks with the administration and believes the Hindu community will soon secure a space for regular worship.