By Courtney Olsen
As a yoga instructor and a third year college student I have heard from my friends and peers that they are intimidated by yoga. Some have seen the various YouTube videos of yogi’s balancing upside down on their head and know that’s a reality they will never experience, others think they don’t have the right clothes or equipment, and often times many athletes and students I’ve talked to are discouraged from practicing yoga because they think they’re not flexible enough. These were all reasons I stayed away from yoga for a long time, I was nervous of not looking good or making a fool of myself in a class.
The good news is these factors are all myths about yoga and what it actually is, but I didn’t discover this until I eventually went to a class to check it out for myself. The better news is that you can practice yoga from the comfort of your own dorm, for free, with little to no experience. When yoga originated thousands of years ago, there was no such thing as yoga poses or yoga classes. Yoga was sitting and being with your breath—that’s it. So if you can breath, you can do yoga.
Over the years that people have practiced yoga, they have discovered the many benefits physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally; and for most, it has shifted the way they live their lives. Being someone who started yoga in college, I can personally speak to how it has changed my life as a student but also my life as whole; and listed, I’ve included what I believe are the 3 most important reasons to practice yoga as a college student.
It is an Amazing Workout
There are various types of yoga out there: vinyasa, bikram, hatha, prenatal, ashtanga, hot yoga, power yoga and the list goes on and on, but all of them have their own level of difficulty depending on your body and experience. There isn’t one yoga style that is ranked more challenging than another, and my advice is to try and few different styles and find the one that you enjoy the most! Practicing yoga shouldn’t be a chore; it should be something you enjoy!
However, regardless of the yoga style you practice, the common denominator between them all is that it will increase your flexibility, and it will strengthen your core. Many people believe yoga is a “girl workout”, or that it consists of mainly stretching. But what people don’t realize is yoga combines the act of stretching and strengthening, so you simultaneously are doing both at the same time. This is why many athletes are now practicing yoga because it is a strengthening workout, but it is low intensity. So not only do you increase strength, but you increase flexibility and balance in an alleviating way. As students we need exercises to stretch out our hips and legs because we sit all day in class! In yoga you flow through series of lunges, planks, standing balances, and seated stretches to get your muscles warmed up and moving.
A huge part of yoga is concentration, without it, you’ll find yourself completely lost in a class. But beyond following the teacher’s instruction, yoga is about unplugging from the social academic world, and connecting to the present moment. A regular yoga practice creates time for you to clear your mind from everything going on in your life; this is often taught through breath instruction.
As students we’re usually in “go-mode”. We move from one class to the next, squeeze our assignments in here and there, and try to juggle having a social life. We hardly ever take time out of the day to focus on our breathing. But yogic breathing techniques are the key to a clear mind and concentration. When you take time out of your day to practice yoga and focus on your breath, you will feel more clear and focused when you are hitting the books or sitting through long lectures.
This is what I would classify as the most important reason to start yoga, to alleviate stress. As young adults we have enough that we stress out about: social anxiety, self esteem, body image, sports performance, life after college, assignments, exams, lectures, club meetings, projects and presentations, etc. and we’re expected to be able to juggle it all.
By keeping up with a regular yoga practice that combines physical poses, breathing and meditation, studies have proven students’ stress will decrease. In 2009, The International Journal of Yoga published a study that looked at the academic performance of students after they established a regular yoga practice. The study showed that after doing yoga for seven weeks, students found they were less stressed and their academic performance improved.
What do you think?
Do you practice yoga? Do you meditate? What are you experiencing? Have you found yourself becoming more flexible? Have you noticed an improvement in concentration? Have you noticed your stress has decreased? Have you noticed any other benefits? Leave me a comment and let me know!