Center for Yoga instructor Kara Baruzzini sat cross-legged and barefoot in the middle of the stage calling the attendees of Head Talks — part of the University of Michigan’s first ever mental health week — to breathe, an introduction that set the tone for the evening’s event. Students attended this Ted Talk-style panel at the Ross School of Business, aiming to explore a variety of ways in which mindfulness, mental health and positive psychology manifest in the workplace, classroom and everyday life.

The seven-person panel, made up of “joy soldiers,” was designed to be an outlet for professors, University students, Ann Arbor community members and business leaders to convene and have a conversation mental health.

Business senior Sarah Wood, who coordinated the event, explained the meaning of “joy soldiers” as a term she uses to name her life’s purpose.

“You’re not a therapist,” Wood said. “You are trying to alleviate pain and bring joy to the people around you. To be a good ‘joy soldier’ you need to take care of yourself and I think that taking care of yourself first allows you to help others.”

Each speaker drew attention to a different way in which mindfulness affects their life.

“You never know when that moment of grace is going to come and so this Head Talks idea came from the thought that you never know what’s going to click with someone,” Wood said. “I know all these amazing ‘joy soldiers’ could come together and make an impact.”

Bryan Bennett, a yoga instructor at Center for Yoga, followed Baruzzini and focused his talk on being present for the journey of life.

“What separates a mediocre and amazing person is the effort one puts into getting to where you want to go,” Bennett said. “The end goal doesn’t matter. What matters is that you put the effort in. Accept your past for what it is and don’t let it affect you in your current journey.”

In her speech, Business professor Amy Young mentioned an anecdote about a former student with a speech impediment who overcame his hurdle in a public speaking. Her story struck a chord with LSA sophomore Rachel Mazzotta.

“I thought that Professor Young’s presentation one of her student and how he fostered a sense of reimagining the possible even with a stutter,” Mazzotta said. “He really seems to have taught her more about her teaching abilities and touched everyone in his class.”  

Wrapping up the panel was Business senior Sam Orley, the executive director of Wolverine Support Network, who discussed how events in his personal life led him to get involved with mental health matters on campus.

“In 2013 as I was entering my senior year of high school, and my brother was a junior at Michigan, he took his life,” Orley said. “This is of course had a profound traumatic impact on my life both being with him and not. But experiencing from a distance his time at Michigan, and how his experience with mental illness was largely affected by the climate around him. It’s not that there weren’t people or outlets to get help — it’s just that he didn’t feel comfortable doing so. That’s why I’m here today, and that’s what motivated me to join Wolverine Support Network.”

Other speakers at the event included Patrick Borchert and Lars Gruss, exchange Ross MBA students from Copenhagen, and Mark St. George, principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and board member for National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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