The Gift of Yoga

What’s the gutsiest move I’ve ever made and how does it inspire my life and work today? That would have to be deciding to extend the gift of yoga to my students what is now over five years ago. This decision is significant because it signifies my stepping into what I’m truly passionate about. I’m passionate about helping people take care of themselves and I deeply believe that yoga is probably one of the best tools out there to do just that.

I work with low income, first generation, underrepresented students and help prepare them for graduate school, so when I had this idea, I immediately thought people would think … what does yoga have to do with getting into graduate school? I judge myself enough as it is, but I forecasted people judging this decision even more. I envisioned people thinking I’m taking away from the focus of the program. I envisioned people thinking that I’m wasting resources. I envisioned people thinking this kind of activity to be entirely too woo woo. And for that matter, I risked people thinking that I was a little off my rocker! Crazy girl!

I did it anyways and never looked back.

I had scholars talk about never feeling *as alive* as they did after that first session (think: senses on fire!) and I had scholars think they were being coerced into giving up their religion. I’ve had scholars puke (just once). I’ve had scholars get profound relief from back pain and mental anguish (all the same). I’ve had scholars joke around during classes and I’ve had scholars take the opportunity uber-seriously.

Perhaps I should note that we never *force* our scholars to do yoga. That would certainly be un-yoga-like now wouldn’t it? We *might* strongly encourage, role model, even incentivize them during the summer, but never force. Thank goodness, huh?

This is the thing. Yoga opened the door to having a conversation about how to take care of ourselves so that we can do awesome things in our lives on a daily basis. We’ve all got some goals and plans for our lives. We want to feel good while we are striving to achieve them (I’m assuming here). That pretty much means we need to figure out a way to keep ourselves in tip-top-shape (body, mind, spirit anyone?) so that we are in full-operational mode as much as we can.

So there’s the trick.

It’s not so easy to do that on a regular basis, is it? We might start off in a nice groove, say at the beginning of a new semester (great time to set our intentions), packing a healthy lunch when we’re on the go, getting that workout in before class, making sure to get to sleep at a decent hour. Then the semester *really starts to happen* and those plans sail right out the window.

It sucks! And I understand why.

It’s the daily pressures of all of our responsibilities that we’ve chosen to take on (key word being *chosen* as in *we choose* what is on our plates). It’s the pressure of making enough money to live while we go after our dreams (really thinking about my students here). It’s the pressures of wanting and having to do well in order to achieve our goals. It’s the pressures of all those other “little nuggets of life” that can surface in the most in opportune times and make our heads spin.

So getting back to yoga. I think yoga is one of the best tools for self-care because it gives us an opportunity to slow down, completely pause even, in our busy lives. It allows us to go inward and focus on our bodies and on ourselves in a way that we don’t really do that often. The physical postures in yoga make us feel good. We stretch and we strengthen.

But I would argue that yoga is so much more than that.

It’s the work that we do with our breath and our minds. It’s focusing on our breath and just listening, instead of having our minds constantly be in “doing-mode” and stressing about all of the things we still need to get done. It’s taking some time for ourselves (doesn’t have to be a ton of time either) and slowing down enough to get a read on how we’re really doing. Of course, there’s much much more to it, but I think this encapsulates why yoga can be so good for our students and good for everyone.

scholaryoga

McNair scholars unwinding with some summer yoga.

I think back to that first yoga session quite often and I smile. I think about how far we’ve come since then. We’ve definitely “upped” things by incorporating other wellness-oriented workshops + activities through the years, but in my mind, it still comes down to yoga. I love to give the gift of yoga, and by that, I mean inviting others to explore how yoga might create small, even huge, shifts in their lives for the better. It’s about having an open mind, creating the time + space to doing something special for yourself, it’s about experimenting with all different kinds of tools to see what really works for you.

 

 

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