Show promotes stress-relief group

Elena Rozwadowski

The lights dimmed. All the audience members could see were eight green laser light beams projected over their heads as the faint synthesized music started backstage.

Under the cover of darkness, Las Vegas magician Simon Winthrop took his place on the small podium in the middle of the stage. When the lights came up, Winthrop pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and began spinning it in midair in front of him, guiding it into his mouth and lighting it with a burst of flames from his hand.

Winthrop was the headline act for Cirque de Magic, a show featuring two magicians, a clown, a contortionist, a pair of dancers and a variety-comedy act. There were two performances Saturday at Ted Mann Concert Hall.

The performers donated their time to the Art of Living Foundation, an organization “dedicated to strengthening society by focusing on the individual” through stress management techniques, said Divya Kanchibhotla, coordinator of the foundation’s Minnesota chapter.

Although community members of all ages attended the event, the magic show was an attempt to reach out to the University, Kanchibhotla said. The foundation hopes to offer classes at the University next year.

Other chapters have had a lot of success on college campuses, she said, including at five Big Ten schools and 53 other universities throughout the country.

The organization has a “two-pronged approach,” Kanchibhotla said. The first prong is an initiative to work with people to manage stress through deep-breathing exercises. The second goal is broader and includes community service projects and education in local schools.

“We’re never taught how to handle our emotions and that can cause a lot of stress,” Kanchibhotla said. “We are helping to improve a concentrated focus in life.”

University graduate student Srividya Venkatasubramanya said she took an Art of Living course about 10 years ago as an undergraduate in India.

“At that time, I didn’t have any stress in my life, so I didn’t really feel any difference,” she said.

But when she started the masters program in Spanish and Portuguese at the University, she said she “really learned what stress was” and was glad to have the breathing techniques to get her through the most stressful times.

Now, Venkatasubramanya is a teacher at the Art of Living Foundation.

“You can’t do everything, but when you do, you can do it without stress,” she said.

Second-year chemical engineering and materials science graduate student Kartik Subramanian, who also took the course when he lived in India, said he and others have been trying to bring the Art of Living to the University for a while.

“It sets you perfectly for your day,” Subramanian said. “It takes you to a place where you’re more aware of the present.”

Subramanian said he attends weekly meetings to practice his breathing techniques.

Because volunteers run Art of Living, all of the proceeds from Saturday’s event, which included a silent auction, will go to community projects and classes.

Taylor Selsbeck, a junior at St. Anthony Village High School, attended the event Saturday. He said he grew up with magic and often goes to shows with his family.

“The show wasn’t amazing, but it got people out here and gave them a chance to learn about the organization,” he said. “It was still fun and it gave people a chance to relax, which is what this organization tries to do.”

Kanchibhotla said she hopes to have classes at the University as early as January. Although classes normally cost $175, she said the organization can usually secure sponsorships from student organizations to bring the price down.

Venkatasubramanya said the price of the classes is always negotiable.

“We believe that, unless you pay for it, you are not going to put your 100 percent into it,” she said. “It really boils down to one-on-one talking; we never say no.

“This breathing technique is such a gift to humanity; I don’t think it gets any easier than that.”