Nov. 1, 1996
Yoga Class Helps Students Shed Tension
By Robin Droegemueller
UW-RF News Bureau
It's 9:59 on a Tuesday morning as a female student raced across the campus of UW-River Falls toward the Emogene Nelson Building, a million thoughts flying through her mind.
A typical college student, her days are packed with the pressures of classes, homework and exams, two jobs, varsity soccer practice (or some other daily form of exercise), not to mention squeezing in a social life. She also has to find time to sleep, eat, and breathe.
For most people, college student or not, stress is a constant and seemingly inevitable presence.
But it was absent in a Nelson classroom supervised by Professor Larry Albertson, former dean of the College of Education & Graduate Studies.
Missing was the pre-class noisy chatter of some 30 students who are rummaging through book bags before the professor arrives to lead a lecture and discussion for the next 50 minutes.
Instead, the female student entered the large, unconventional classroom with high ceilings and a red mat covering the floor. Students were lying silently on their backs, their eyes closed to the cavernous room, their hands at their sides in a "corpse" position.
As more students enter, they quietly remove their shoes and join the others on the floor. Albertson lies in the same position at a central location near a wall.
The atmosphere is calm as class begins. The buzz of the lights and the occasional creaks and groans of the building can be heard through the silence. In a soothing, steady tone, Albertson reminds students to focus on their breathing. Under Albertson's instruction, students began slowly stretching their bodies into various positions and hold each for around 30 seconds, continually focusing on breathing and relaxing their bodies. Between each stretch the meditators return to the original "corpse" position to relax and further focus the mind, body, and breathing.
Albertson's students are enrolled in his "Introduction to Yoga," a new class that meets for an hour two days each week. Other classes in the physical education department include such popular sports as volleyball, tennis, and golf, as well as more unique activities such as scuba diving, cross-country skiing, and now yoga.
These classes, in conjunction with a required "Health and Fitness for Life," are all focused on teaching students to develop and maintain a healthier lifestyle. The goal is to have students develop the knowledge and skills in these college courses to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout life.
"Introduction to Yoga" is gaining a favorable response from students, who say they highly recommend the class.
"I really like it," says one student. "It's my first class of the day and it really helps me to relax and get focused. It's also a stress reliever, something I can do on my own to help me relax."
Adds sophomore Joanna McCoy, an animal science major from Cannon Falls, Minn., "It relaxes me for the rest of the day. It improves flexibility and it's easy to do. The positions are easy to learn and we can use what we learn outside of class."
Yoga is both physical and psychological; it provides relaxation and focus for the mind and body. According to Albertson, over time and with practice, the meditation becomes more intense. "A focused mind leads to deeper and deeper meditation," he says. However, yoga is not an escape from the present or from reality; the meditator doesn't block out his or her environment. Instead, yoga is an intense awareness, a complete focusing of the mind.
Albertson teaches what he calls "mindful yoga," which is more than just thought and exercise. It encompasses a balanced approach to life. For example, to help the body stay balanced, Albertson says, as the human bodies stretches in one direction, it counteracts that stretch with another in the opposite direction.
Albertson also emphasizes the principle of moderation, which can apply in exercise, diet, work and other aspects of life. "If you don't practice moderation, you will pay the price," Albertson warns the students.
He stresses the importance of going into each stretch slowly and moderately, doing only what is comfortable so as not to place undue strain on the body.
A third principle is not to be judgmental of yourself or others. Albertson tells students to enjoy and thrive in each posture and to accept their individual and differing abilities. They shouldn't worry if they're not as flexible as others or if they can't hold the posture as long.
Stress is self-imposed, Albertson reminds his students. Being non-judgmental helps relaxation.
The yoga class is activity-orientation. "Students get into the actual meditation right away," Albertson relates.
And what works for the student also works for the teacher.
Albertson says yoga has a positive effect on all aspects of his life.
"After I teach yoga in the morning my day just goes great," he remarks with a smile.