I remember the first time I went to a yoga class at the gym. It was my freshman year, and having never done yoga before, I had no idea what to expect. I pictured a very serious-looking instructor guiding the class through a series of complicated poses, and due to my lack of flexibility, I was sure I wasn’t going to be able to follow along.
However, my first class turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. The instructor was kind and friendly, and she told us up front that all the poses were optional, because the purpose of yoga is to listen to your body. Throughout the class, I was able to take the poses that were more challenging and either modify them or leave them out entirely, which made the class much more enjoyable.
From a mental and physical health standpoint, yoga has many benefits. For one, it improves balance and flexibility, which can be especially helpful for college students who spend a lot of time sitting.
Additionally, practicing yoga regularly has been linked to an increased attention span and a greater ability to retain information, which would certainly be helpful during a busy exam week and could provide much-needed stress relief. However, this does not negate the importance of yoga at any time of year, as the benefits are still present regardless of the need to lessen stress before an event.
What really differentiates yoga from other sports or activities is that instead of focusing on numbers or performance, yoga emphasizes listening to your body and using that intuition to work toward personal goals, whether that is improving flexibility or simply relaxing and having fun. I found that while practicing yoga, I did not feel the need to conform to a standard, whether that be aesthetic or fitness-related. For people who do engage in other activities or sports, yoga can also enhance performance by improving stamina, strength and flexibility.
At first, when the instructor asked the class to take part in a position called savasana, which essentially means lying still with no movement, I was confused. But after trying it, I was able to notice the instructor’s voice as well as the people around me while still allowing myself to focus on my breathing.
The sense of stillness I developed from multiple yoga classes has translated into my academics, where I can practice mindfulness in order to enhance my focus, which has allowed me to stay more present and retain information. In fact, yoga has been linked to increased self-discipline and self awareness, which, given the stressful nature of college, could be helpful for many students.
Currently, NC State Wellness and Recreation offers seven different yoga classes as part of the regularly scheduled group fitness classes, ranging from gentle yoga to power yoga and yoga sculpt. The variety of levels can provide different things for different students, from those who wish to improve their balance to those who are new to group fitness classes and want to try something more laid-back or who are recovering from an injury and need a low-impact form of movement. For anyone, no matter who you are or where you are in your fitness journey, yoga can be a great way to have fun and relieve stress.