On a Wednesday evening at Columbia College, midterm season is in full swing as students rush through the lobby of Schapiro Hall toting books and flipping through review packets. Yet in the dormitory lounge only a few feet away Sarah Green CC ’16, along with a group of more than twenty students, professors and administrators, takes one hour to leave behind the stress of midterms and focus on her personal well-being through meditation.
“Today I had a midterm that went really well, and I’m proud of my accomplishments, although I probably drank too much coffee,” Green says. “But even if I’ve had a really great day, I come to meditation to check in with myself and feel more focused and grounded.”
Green is one of the many students who participate in Bhakti Club, a student group founded at Columbia in 2001 by a group of Hindu students who wanted to engage in philosophical discussions and learn to cook wholesome, healthy meals. Though it has been steadily growing since then, the club only began meeting in the residential dormitories at the beginning of the 2013–14 academic year after forming a partnership with Columbia College and Columbia Engineering’s Office of Residential Life, which oversees residential life for College and Engineering undergraduates. The club now meets three times a week: Mondays and Wednesdays are devoted to meditation, while at Friday sessions the group practices yoga. After Wednesday’s hour-long meditation, participants enjoy a homemade vegetarian meal cooked by volunteers from the Bhakti Center downtown.
The Bhakti Center, located in the East Village, is a nonprofit cultural arts center devoted to the life and teachings of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a Vedic Hinduism scholar, translator and teacher who is widely known for his expertise on bhakti-yoga. The Center, from which Bhakti Club draws many of its practices, defines the term “bhakti” simply as “the common religious devotion that is held in the heart of a devoted person of any spiritual faith.” Despite its roots in Hindu traditions, the Columbia club’s meetings are primarily focused on wellness and, as a result, welcome and attract attendees from different spiritual backgrounds. This openness, coupled with the club’s ability to accommodate students of different yoga and meditative levels, and their new location in the middle of dorm life, are part of what the club’s board members attribute to the Columbia community’s growing interest in Bhakti Club’s programming.
“The bhakti mantra is only as spiritual or religious as you want it to be,” says Green, who fluctuates between Judaism, Atheism and Hinduism in her spiritual practice. “For some people it’s a tool for mindfulness, while for others it is their faith.”
Darleny Cepin, associate director of the Office of Residential Life and a regular participant in Bhakti Club’s meditational meetings, believes that the organization promotes many of Residential Life’s core values regarding physical, mental and social well-being. As an administrator, Cepin has also played an integral part in Bhakti Club’s transition into its new location. “As a student affairs professional, I recognize healthy students are better prepared to learn and succeed in college,” says Cepin. “Residential [Life] is committed to providing students with opportunities that promote a successful living and learning experience.”
Miguel Winsor CC ’15, who first attended a Bhakti Club meditation meeting during the second semester of his freshman year, describes the club as a major point of salvation for his overall happiness at the time.
“When I came to Columbia at age 18, my life took off on a whole new path and I was very lost,” says Winsor. “Then I found Bhakti Club, which helped me learn a lot more about myself. I really accredit this club with making me a better person.”
Winsor says participating in Bhakti Club’s yoga and meditational meetings taught him how to maintain awareness of his physical and mental health in everyday life. His experience has led him to take yoga for his Physical Education requirement and a Hinduism class, as well as to attend meditation and vegetarian cooking classes at the Bhakti Center downtown.
While there are people who have been coming to Bhakti Club’s meetings for years, there are also new faces in the room every week. Each meeting draws approximately 20 students, eager to relax and recharge.
“I think there’s a lot of people at Columbia who are trying to do it all by themselves and put up a brave face,” says Green. “But, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself even when you’re really busy and making great accomplishments.”
Bhakti Club is just one of the opportunities offered through Residential Life that supports healthy living for students. Others include the Residence Hall Leadership Organization (RHLO), a group of student leaders that work with the Resident Advisors to foster a sense of community in the dormitories, and Special Interest Communities, a program that allows students with common interests to live together through communities such as Wellness House, Community Health House and vegetarian-friendly Metta House.
“We welcome programs in residence hall lounges that integrate the living and learning environment and promote healthy life choices,” says Cepin. “It is an honor to partner with students, utilize residential lounge space and literally open our doors for these opportunities, as healthy choices often begin at home.”
Stella Girkins CC ’15, from Garberville, California, is a student web editor for the Columbia College website and a correspondent for
Mandarin Quarterly NYC. This story appeared in the 2013
–2014 Columbia College Annual Report.