University group wants Minneapolis to smile

The Art of Living Club went around the city encouraging people to smile.

Art of Living Foundation volunteer Natalia Stefanova walks around Thomas Beach at Lake Calhoun in search of people to smile for her on Saturday.

Matt Mead

Art of Living Foundation volunteer Natalia Stefanova walks around Thomas Beach at Lake Calhoun in search of people to smile for her on Saturday.

A University of Minnesota student group is trying to promote a stress-free environment by asking Minneapolis to smile more often. The Art of Living Club set out last week encouraging people on the street to consider the value of their smile, with the goal of snapping photos of people smiling in Minneapolis. The group led the campaign, called Smile MSP, by walking in pairs around Lake Calhoun and the University campus, documenting more than 1,000 smiles in total. Sunman (Sunny) Lee , a graduate student at the University, said the campaign brightened her day when she ran into them on campus. âÄúThe initiative is making people more conscious of the moment and the positive aspects of their life,âÄù Lee said. âÄúMaybe some people smiled because they wanted their picture taken, but maybe some people wanted to enjoy the moment.âÄù The group is a sector of the national Art of Living Foundation, one of the United NationsâÄô largest non-governmental organizations with more than 140 countries involved. Smile MSP was inspired by the Smile D.C. campaign in Washington, where they collected more than 5,000 smiles in 48 hours. Natalia Stefanova , a volunteer with the foundation traveling to universities nationwide to promote the smile campaign, said the response has been overwhelming. âÄúPeople were telling us they didnâÄôt know how to smile anymore,âÄù Stefanova said. âÄúThe campaign is addressing this major problem in society.âÄù Miriam Cameron, a yoga therapist at the UniversityâÄôs Center for Spirituality and Healing , takes a group of graduate students each year to India where part of their lesson is the philosophy behind smiling. âÄúYou can do more for your health if you smile three times a day,âÄù Cameron said. âÄúItâÄôll relax your face, enhance your immune system and youâÄôll feel better about yourself.âÄù Lee said the Smile MSP campaign provided good energy after a stressful move to the United States from South Korea. âÄúLast semester was personally very challenging for me as an international student. I wanted to give up and go home,âÄù Lee said. âÄúI realized that I need to enjoy the moment and focus on positive things in my life. They brightened up my day.âÄù Neeta Shanbhag, a graduate student in epidemiology at the University and president of TALC, said joining this organization when she moved to the United States from Mumbai, India, in 2006 has changed her life. âÄúThe main thing we emphasize in this group is a stress-free, violence-free campus,âÄù Shanbhag said. âÄúAs a graduate student, this organization changed my life with its workshops and meetings.âÄù The Art of Living Club organizes a class called the Yoga Empowerment Service Plus seminar, also known as YES! Plus. Stefanova said the seminar is a leadership workshop directed toward students and young professionals. The class is also taught by student groups at other universities such as Stanford, Harvard and Cornell, with students responding that they have more energy and motivation, as well has better sleep habits. The next YES! Plus workshop will be Aug. 21âÄì25 at the St. Paul Student Center.