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IN PURSUIT OF HEALTH AND HAPPINESS

Yan Ciupak, associate professor of sociology at Northern Michigan University, is pictured. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

MARTQUETTE — It was about this time one year ago that Yan Ciupak, associate professor of sociology at NMU, visited India for almost five weeks. She studied and experienced the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh, and also collected data for her research project on the Buddhist Nun Empowerment movement.

“It was incredible,” Ciupak said. “It’s really hard to describe, but it was a very transformational experience. After a month in India, I really noticed how stressed I had been in daily life. The real challenge for me was to learn how to integrate what I learned into my fast-paced modern life.”

Ciupak earned her doctoral degree in sociology of education from University of New York, Buffalo. She and has been at NMU for 10 years, moving here from downstate with her husband for the Upper Peninsula’s natural beauty and friendly Yooper culture.

She has since taught a variety of classes, promoted the internationalization of NMU, founded the Grief Specialist Certificate Program, served as a mentor for the Student Leader Fellowship Program and–most recently–became the faculty adviser for the NMU Yoga Club.

One of the things that Ciupak brought back to NMU was the holistic yoga that she spent time learning in India. While she was in Rishikesh, located in the Dehradun district, she spent 21 days from 6 a.m. to almost 9 p.m. doing intensive training to better understand both the physical and mental benefits of yoga. Her hope was to develop a holistic yoga class for Northern by incorporating four components of yoga: poses, breathwork, meditation and philosophy.

“Yoga is much more than bending here and bending there and the positions like what we see in many of our studios. It’s not just a workout,” Ciupak said. “If we just use it as a way to increase our strength and flexibility, then yes, that happens. However, there’s so much more mental benefits and spiritual benefits, too, because it’s a practice towards a union of the body, mind and spirit.”

One of the yoga instructors that Ciupak studied under did a presentation at NMU. Swami Omkarananda was originally going to Chicago, but he was invited by Ciupak to take a detour to Marquette in August to address “Yoga and Meditation in a Busy Life” in an event put on by NMU’s Yoga Club. Swami and Ciupak were also invited by TV6’s Upper Michigan Today show to talk about their understanding of yoga.

While Ciupak was in India, she also spent time in the Himalayas with a group of Buddhist nuns, learning about some of their traditions and practices at the temple.

“The nunnery is exemplary in Buddhist women empowerment,” Ciupak said. “They are one of the first and only Buddhist nunneries that integrate long-term retreats, meditation, service and advanced philosophy studies, including debates. Many of these opportunities used to be available only to the monks, not the female nuns. I know religion can be a place of inequality. Female practitioners’ intellectual and spiritual potentials have been neglected for centuries. I found so much inspiration and empowerment there. Through the efforts of Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and many others, these advanced practices and education are available to female monastics, too.”

Ciupak expressed her desire to apply some of the things that she learned during her trip for both her personal and professional life. While she’s advising the yoga club at NMU and practicing holistic thinking, she wants to continue to bring the same positive thinking to her classroom and studies.

“I’ve been an advocate for ‘positive sociology,'” said Ciupak. “Social and behavioral sciences tend to focus on the problems. I want to show that, while there are problems like inequality on many issues, we should also look at the human agency and collective endeavors that are enabling and empowering in order to bring about social changes and human flourishing.”

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