A change for the happier

Members of two campus groups seek happiness through changed lifestyles.

by Patricia Drey

Eric Paulson became the talk of the party when he uncharacteristically turned down alcohol.

It was Paulson’s first time returning to his hometown of Wausau, Wis., since he began adhering to a Vedic lifestyle – one that forbids consuming alcohol and nonprocreative sex.

His friends at the 20- to 30-person gathering were “bewildered” when they learned about his life-style change, he said. Paulson had always liked to party.

“I won’t deny that I had fun at the time,” Paulson said, referring to his party-filled past. “But I am really satisfied now.”

Members of two University groups have altered their lifestyles in the hopes of leading happier lives.

The Vedic Cultural Society promotes a lifestyle also known as the Hare Krishna movement.

Vedic devotees typically chant and meditate for about two hours per day, do not have sex for purposes other than reproduction and do not eat meat, fish or eggs.

For Paulson, parties are different now, he said. When attending one, the psychology junior sings, dances, eats and reads scripture with other Vedic followers.

Paulson’s goals have also changed, he said, from what he called “typical all-American goals” such as landing a good job to living a “God-centered” life.

The Vedic Cultural Society exists to help students learn more about the cultural aspects of the Vedic lifestyle, said Nicholas Rabe, the group’s president. The group also provides support for students who want to incorporate Vedic principles into their lives.

“We only support what people are inclined to do,” Rabe said.

The group operates a Dinkytown space called Gopal’s Transcendental Lounge where students can come to eat a vegetarian lunch, meditate, attend weekend morning services and learn more about Vedic culture.

Rabe said he learned about Vedic culture in 1996 and became committed to the lifestyle during the 2002-03 school year.

Now, he wakes up between 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. each morning to chant, meditate, read, have breakfast and get things prepared for the day.

Falling asleep early and waking up early is part of Vedic culture.

“The body has a natural rhythm. It is made of the elements,” said Susan Jensen, a volunteer at Gopal’s Transcendental Lounge.

Jensen compared sleeping patterns and the sun with two cogs, and said that to operate smoothly, the cogs must fit p>together.

Chanting – another practice common to the culture – helps people feel peaceful and removes stress, Jensen said.

Another University group claims students can flush out stress using the techniques it teaches.

Srividya Venkatasubramanya, a curriculum and instruction graduate student, is working to start an Art of Living club on campus. The club is affiliated with an international organization that teaches breathing techniques.

Venkatasubramanya, who learned the techniques as an undergraduate student in India, said she went from being someone who was often stressed out about tests and relationships to someone, who – despite raising a 6-month-old child while pursuing her doctoral degree – is always optimistic and relaxed.

“I am able to do all of that without getting hassled,” she said. “You can’t catch me with a frown on my face.”

Her ritual for remaining relaxed is 20 minutes of deep breathing each morning. She said this practice oxygenates every cell in the body.

“You feel as if you’ve literally put a brush in yourself and cleaned yourself out,” she said.

Right now, there are only a handful of students on campus who have completed the course, she said. Her hope is that more students will complete the course so a group can meet on campus to practice what they have learned.

“I would like people to just do the course and experience for themselves how much stress and dirt you can get rid of,” Venkatasubramanya said.