Yoga is an odd experience.
I recently participated in my first professionally-led yoga session. The instructor asked the group to sit up unnaturally straight and spread our toes, to stand on one leg and shake out our hands. I’ve never tried so hard to “relax.” From failing a warrior pose to the instructor repeatedly fixing my posture, I soon learned that this exercise was not meant for me.
During the end of the session, the teacher instructed us to lie on our backs, close our eyes and focus only on our breathing.
I promise I tried, but it felt nearly impossible to focus on such a petty matter.
How can I act like a vegetable, lying on the ground with closed eyes while the rest of the world is alive and active? How is focusing on my breathing or forcing my tongue not to touch the roof of my mouth helpful to anyone around me?
In the dark room with Native American flute music playing softly in the background, I relaxed just enough to run through my list of things I had to do. I thought about the next event I had planned, the homework I had due that night, and I wrote the outline of this column.
Remaining peaceful and thoughtless is the most simple yet most challenging task I face. I bet many students can relate, too. We live in a task-oriented, time-oriented culture. We have a never-ending to-do list that we never seem to catch up on. We have deadlines to meet and work to attend to.
Students are stressed — unhealthily so. Approximately 85 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by everything they had to do during one consecutive school year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), and anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses.
We are expected to squeeze all our classes into four years, and to learn everything we need to know in order to start our careers. According to every syllabus I have had, students are expected to spend 2 hours of study, review and reading for each credit hour a class is worth. A student taking a relatively normal class load of 15 hours will be expected to spend 30 hours on school work after classes each week.
On top of the 30 hours spent studying and the 15 hours spent in classes, students are encouraged to spend 8 hours a night sleeping, at least 3 hours at church or devo and at least 1-3 hours a week participating in club activities. Many students spend up to 20 hours a week working, and ideally 21 hours on meal breaks. That leaves approximately 41 hours out of an 168-hour week to enjoy the life we live.
The majority of our time is dedicated to work, school and surviving. No wonder we feel stressed. Our well-being is often overlooked. We skip meals to finish a paper or pull an all-nighter to finish a project. And, if you’re like me, “free time” isn’t much of an option.
American philosopher and scientist William James once said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” I guess this is what yoga aims to do: teach you to control your thoughts. Maybe that is the secret to our success, choosing to take care of ourselves before our class or workload.
Now that club week is winding down and the semester is nearing its end, maybe try to focus on your breathing. You just might feel a little bit lighter.