Who ever thought it would be possible to twist and contort into a human pretzel? I certainly didn’t, at least not until attending a hatha yoga class. Who knew that bending your body in ways that don’t look humanly possible for the average Joe would actually be the most relaxing part of your day? Again, not this girl.
I am not be the most athletic, flexible person to ever walk this planet, but even I, the uncoordinated, tall, awkward girl, found peace during this 50 minute yoga course. A main course of relaxation with a side of challenge.
Walking into the dance studio, sunshine seeping through the narrow windows, the nerves set in. With sweaty palms and apprehension, I unrolled my yoga mat and sat criss-cross, mimicking the 20 other students packed into the room.
Rhonda Lesley, University director of personal development and counseling with Wellness Services sneaks into the room, barefoot, carrying a purple mat, smiling with every step.
She leads the course in Martindale Dance Studio every Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. Her expression is cheerful, as she enters the elongated room. Yet, it is evident that she is the professional. She warms the hearts of students looking for her yoga guidance as she sets up the space to pass on her teachings.
Soothing lullabies begin to fill the air as she begins to speak gently, her words bouncing off the four walls of the structure as she instructs.
Through out the workout, she reminds students, “Don’t forget to keep breathing,” and “Now, just relax and cool down,” which is helpful for students that want to push themselves too far.
“She is an amazing instructor,” Jackson Leggett said. “She is the reason I keep coming back because she makes it so I am challenging myself each and every time. My favorite thing that she stresses is that yoga isn't meant to hurt, and she encourages us to take a break if we begin to feel pain or just need to break in general.”
As a first-time Hatha yoga student, there was a lot of terminology that will throw you for a loop. Thoughts that may possibly run through your mind include, ‘How do I move like that?’ and ‘What the heck am I doing next?’ or ‘Downward dog again?’
Toes stuck, frozen bodies holding poses that make it seem like a lifetime, as a single bead of sweat pours down your forehead. This is a test of endurance and strength, seeing how much miniscule college muscles can handle.
One of these obstacle positions includes the tree pose, it sounds simple, but balance is key. This is where you stand tall, upright on one foot, arms spread outward, while bringing your opposite foot to the inside of your calf. Let’s talk about the struggle. I found this to be the most challenging pose during my time in yoga.
Even though challenging for a rookie, hatha yoga has benefits and pleasures not many would think to associate with this exercise. Physically, mentally and emotionally, yoga has you covered. Even if you just need a quick breather, this course can change your whole state of mind and outlook for the day.
“It’s proven; it can help you cope better with stress,” Lesley said. “It helps keep your blood pressure down, helps you feel more resilient.”
Students in this course find themselves more at peace in stressful situations. Males and females both attend and find themselves changing in a positive way over time. For some, their favorite part of the course is the cool down towards the end of each period.
“I really like seeing students and talking to students who feel that transformation that yoga brings to their life” Lesley said. “I’ll have students after class come up to me and tell me that they feel better than they can ever remember feeling after coming to yoga class.
“It was so transformational for them. And you can see it. You can see it in their expressions and their excitement. And they come back to class, and they are dedicated. And over time you watch them get stronger, and you get inspired…”
Not only in my own experience did I find unity of self and relaxation, everyone who attends benefits something different, even Lesley herself.
“I would say I’m stronger physically,” Lesley said. “Definitely, my balance has improved. For me, I really like the centered feeling that you get when you do yoga. After I have practiced yoga, even if it is just for a brief 30-minute session, I feel much more centered physically, emotionally. It’s a feeling of clarity.”
Imagine contorting your body in different positions and focusing on small, fundamental movements. Clearing my head of clutter and overcoming the day by getting in tune with oneself. That is what hatha yoga is all about. Hatha is centered on your physical being and breathing. Lesley encourages anyone to attend this course, even faculty and especially athletes.
“Yoga helps me in every aspect of my life: mentally, emotionally and physically,” Leggett said. “It has helped me develop deep breathing to relax my central nervous system in which I do before I go to bed and always fall right asleep. I have some back problems that bother me on a day-to-day basis, and it has helped to strengthen my core enough to where I can notice a difference in my pain level.”
For people who have never experienced yoga, it is important to remember that it is something new. You build up strength and ability over time; just like anything, it takes practice. But, hatha yoga will help you relax, even during your first session and just take a load off.
“I would tell them (first-time yoga goers) to come with an open mind,” Lesley said. “To be aware of their bodies limitations and be aware of their own physical limitations. Sometimes people try to push it too far. They try to hold a pose too long or stretch their muscles too far.
“I don’t want them to compete with anyone or themselves. Just come in with an open mind and be honorful of their limitations. And just have fun. Plan to have some fun with this; it doesn’t have to be super serious. It can be fun.”
Most students do attend hatha yoga for pure enjoyment every semester. Usually about 6-8 students are enrolled for credit, and up to 30 come to class to unwind and collect themselves.
“I look forward to it…” Junior Kelsey Wooten said. “It helps me relax enough to not worry about anything else. If I’m having a stressful day, it helps me out...She (Lesley) gives you instruction, and if you’re doing something wrong, she will come over and correct you. She’s good.”
Students who attend the class for enjoyment have less expectations than the students taking the course for credit, but most go to feel refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the stressful week.
“Yoga helps me by taking an hour just to relax and stretch and breath. It is a great stress reliever,” freshman Haley Riffle said. “My favorite part is corpse pose at the end because it is a total relaxation pose. It is rejuvenating.”
Hatha yoga was an experience to remember. It was satisfying and most of all, made me feel better about myself, like most students who attend the class on a regular basis will tell you. It was soothing, yet a tricky trial of self stability. A little something that every college student needs once in awhile.