YES! Program teaches students to unwind, reduces stress


Photo by Melissa Ding

Jessica Wang, Forum Editor

Whether you’ve experienced the famous “soooo-hum’s” firsthand or peeked in on the freshmen taking a nap by candlelight, you probably know of the Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) program. For the past five years, the Physical Education Department has incorporated the YES! program into its classes. Founded in 2008, this program identifies itself as a social-emotional learning initiative working to promote healthy lifestyles in youth through breathing techniques, exercises and assorted mini-lessons, according to their website.

So far, the YES! program continues to positively impact its participants. “I think the YES! program really helped me,” freshman Veer Ruparel said. “It’s a really good way to relax yourself, not just when you’re under stress, but when you’re busy or have a lot of work to do.”

Since the program has received positive feedback, little has changed from its original curriculum. This year, physical education teacher Amy Anderson reports high participation and morale. “I honestly never tire of the overall calm, positive energy that is in the room,” she said. “It’s really a beautiful process, in my opinion. Everyone has been 100 percent all in, very focused and very committed.”

As the school year progresses, the goal is for students to utilize their newfound relaxation techniques, including straw breaths, victory breaths and sky breaths. “You always have your breath with you,” Bay Area YES! program director Priya Mayureshwar said. “You can use it anytime that you feel stress, whether you’re taking a test or playing sports. Some kids even report using it before performances or before giving a speech.”

The YES! program’s routine checkups reduce student stress during key weeks, such as before exams. According to Anderson, some eager sophomores have already asked about their next YES! program follow-up. Anderson also suggests that teachers allot a few minutes for some relaxing breathing before stressful assignments.

Relaxation is key for the YES! program; in fact, a crowd favorite of the program is the rest time it provides. While high school life can often be hectic with weekly homework and exams, participants of YES! enjoy a quiet space to breathe and, for some, catch some Z’s. For some high school students, the extra sleep is greatly appreciated. “I usually have trouble getting enough sleep at night,” freshman Jasmine Fan said. “Nap time has really helped me.”

Beyond refreshing naps, the magic of the YES! program is its lasting accessibility. Although YES! techniques are mainly taught to incoming freshmen, all students can continue to practice them, even after high school. “It really teaches lifelong tools that our students can have in their toolboxes, in terms of how to promote peace and calm and manage stress and anxiety, not just now in these formative teenage years, but throughout college and ultimately for the rest of their lives,” Anderson said.

As such, the YES! program continues to improve students’ lives. “My favorite part is when kids tell me how they’re using the techniques to sleep better, or cope better with whatever anxiety and stress they’re feeling,” Mayureshwar said.

It’s been five years of “soooo-hum’s,” and, hopefully, there will be many more. “Keep doing this,” Ruparel said. “A lot of people like it, and it’s a really good way to de-stress yourself.”