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Over the course of the Spring 2015 semester I had the pleasure of teaching yoga to nearly 100 students at Cleveland State University with classes made up of college students, faculty and staff. Depending on the class, students met for two 50 minute classes per week or once per week for 50 minutes with a 2 day “home practice” that was recorded and submitted. While there were students who had practiced some type of yoga prior to this semester, for a majority of them, it was their first yoga class.
A variety of asana (postures), pranayama (breathing) and meditation techniques were covered which included the following:
- Pawanmukatasa Series
- Classical Postures
- Sun Salutation
- Natural Breath Awareness
- Abdominal/Thoracic Breathing
- Rhythmic Breathing
- Viloma (Breath Interruption)
- Bharamari (Humming Bee Breath)
- Yoga Nidra
- Kaya Shtairyam (Body Steadiness)
- Breath Meditation
- Antar Mouna (Inner Silence)
- Walking Meditation
Although the following is anecdotal and was taken from an “open book” final exam given to the college students and certainly does not serve as “scientific proof”, I believe that these comments build a strong case for the power of yoga’s health inducing and stress reducing benefits. To protect anonymity, and of course privacy, students names were not included.
Need to be inspired to give yoga a try but don’t have time to read all comments? Skip to the boldface type!
Name two (2) things that you learned about yourself or the practice of yoga that you did not know before taking this class.
“I learned about the benefits of taking time in my day to become aware, internally focused, and separated from the outside world. Yoga has been a place where I am encouraged to surrender my negative thoughts and because I did not have yoga experience before this class, I had no idea the effect the time in class would have on me, holistically. In addition, I was unaware just how much breathing would be involved in yoga. Incorporating breathing, physical movements, and a mental component has taught me how to let go of my stressors and focus on the present moment.”
“I have a lot of unresolved, unquiet thoughts! Practicing yoga nidra has shown me that. I also have noticed as a result of the class the art of abdominal breathing is extremely calming and grounding for me to execute daily; it also helps lower my heart rate on long distance runs!”
“I did not know how relaxing yoga can be before taking this class. It made me realize that it is important to take the time and just be aware of your body and the pain. I have learned that yoga can be another way to work out, but it is also a great way to reduce stress. I have realized that my stress level has went down ever since I took this class.”
“I never thought I could just sit, or lay down and let my mind go to a completely different place. When we first started doing yoga nidra I would doze off a lot, but towards the end I would stay completely awake and alert and it was one of the greatest and most relaxing things I have ever done! I always thought that if I was forced to lay down with my eyes closed and with the lights off I would just pass out, but like I said, towards the end I never did! Also, I never thought that yoga could make me so relaxed and stress free. Before this class I have taken some other classes, but they never made me as relaxed as this class did. After yoga, I would feel so good for the rest of the entire day.”
“I learned that I can actually sit still, something I never seemed capable before. I think that taking this class has helped me better my stress control, and I love that I get two take two hours of my week for forced relaxation, especially with such a crazy schedule. The yoga session have taught me that I like yoga, I thought I would never be the type of person who would do yoga but I fully plan on continuing my practicing because it feels good.”
“2 things I learned about myself, and the practice of yoga that I didn’t know before taking the class are the importance of consistent practice, and not letting your ego get in the way of practice. When I first began yoga, I often felt intimidated and sometimes embarrassed. After this class especially I realize there is no good that comes from that. Instead it is important to remember the benefits I am constantly gaining and the reason it’s called a “practice”. Consistency is important both for physical and mental results and it took up until about a week ago for me to realize that.”
“I learned that I have the ability to quiet my mind. That has been such a struggle for me, even with the multiple mediation strategies and apps I have tried. My friends say I am over-analytical, and having this ability that I can use at any time will be very beneficial. I also was able to be present and tap into my gratefulness. I was unaware that I could truly do this consistently.”
“Two things that I learned where basic meditation. I practice yoga frequently but do not meditate often. I learned that I can be still. I also learned how to quiet my mind. I experience anxiety and often have so many thoughts about things I need to do or accomplish running through my mind, and to still these thoughts has been such a great learning experience. I already attend yoga classes, but practicing yoga at home is something I have really began to do this semester. I enjoy meditating, and will continue to work on my breathing, walking meditation, putting my phone away and sitting quietly, and learning more about myself and listening to my body. I am such an active person that sitting still and quiet is what I will incorporate more of into my life on a daily basis.”
“One thing I learned was that I actually enjoyed yoga! And that it’s not just for girls! I had a preconceived notion that I wouldn’t be able to do the movements because I didn’t have the flexibility. I was pretty ignorant to the whole thing. I also learned how much yoga can improve athleticism. During certain compound lifts I do, like deadlifting and squatting, I found that I had better depth and range of motion. Once I saw my flexibility improving I started enjoying yoga. I would and have recommended it to my friends.”
“Before taking this yoga class I did not realize that there were different yoga practices. I had only had experience with a high intensity practice where classes this semester were more relaxed and focused on how we are feeling and what we are thinking. The other thing I have learned is that practicing yoga a few times a week has helped me feel better and more relaxed. I am also able to focus and think clearer on my school work.”
“Before taking yoga, I was skeptical about how much it would really be able to help my body. Now, I know its true powers. You have to be able to listen to your body and be aware of how it feels, and I can do that through yoga. It also involves great exercises and poses that help strengthen the body naturally. The mental and emotional benefits are amazing, too. I never knew that yoga could help me focus more or allow me to become more alert and less stressed. Stress management has probably been the most lasting quality of yoga for me, because I now have ways in which I can become less anxious and worried, and focus on breathing or stretching.”
“I learned that I can be patient and deal with stress healthier from this class. I get really bad heart palpitations when I’m nervous, and these can disappear if I do a few breathing exercises to calm myself down. I’ve found these exercises also help my singing voice and have kept me healthier. I wasn’t as sick this semester and I think that had something to do with my yoga practice.”
“I’ve learned many things about myself and the practice of yoga since taking this class. About myself, I’ve learned how much stress I really carry and how much it had started to show in my body. From the breathing practices and meditations for awareness, I really started to realize that I can control the stress that I’m under and stay positive. Also, I never realized how many benefits yoga has besides just stretching and strengthening muscles. I didn’t realize that it can control energy, the nervous system, internal organs, etc, which is something that I found really surprising and incredible.”
“It is possible to feel disconnected from oneself while practicing yoga. I have felt this multiple times during meditation practices such as yoga nidra and kaya sthaiyam. I have also noticed that practicing even the smallest amount frequently and consistently can make noticeable changes in my mental, physical, and emotional states. Depending on how much I practiced that week, I would notice significant differences in my moods. Yoga had a different effect on me while I was vigorously training for swimming than after I finished. It was interesting to notice that change, but yoga helped.”
“Doing yoga has encouraged me to be fit and more conscious about changes in my body. It has actually become a routine every morning on Saturdays and Sundays. Right after getting out of bed on the weekends now I do the home practices and it just revs me up for the rest of the day. I’ve noticed changes in that I am more motivated to do things on the weekends rather than just lay around. I’ve also noticed that when doing poses that activate the back muscles, I am not as tight and my back isn’t as strained as before.”
“I learned that certain positions relieve certain types of aches and pains. An easy stretch like cat pose can do wonders for painful feminine issues. I learned that sitting and doing completely nothing for a few minutes can help clear my mind and help me focus.”
“Through taking this class I learned how easy it is to come to a peaceful state and relieve my anxiety. I am now able to take a step back from the hectic happenings in my life and calm myself down. I now see that I am capable of furthering my abilities with yoga with gradual progression and consistency. I also see that there are many physical and mental benefits of doing so.”
“In this class, I learned that yoga is not necessarily as physically difficult a practice as I had thought previously. I avoided trying yoga in the past because I had the impression that it required a degree of flexibility that I did not possess. I also had reservations regarding the strength required to practice yoga. Although the later practices of this class do present challenges for me in terms of the flexibility required, the earlier asanas were easily attainable. “
“From practicing yoga in this class, I have learned that I have the capability of letting unpleasant things go in favor of pleasant things. I typically have a tendency to focus on small undesirable details regardless of the outcome of a situation, and derive most of my feelings about that outcome on the basis of those small details. This semester, I find myself able to disregard the unpleasant smaller details in favor of overall positive outcomes. The opposite is also true: this semester, I have been able to focus on small positive things in overall unpleasant outcomes.”
“While practicing yoga I have actually learned a lot about myself. One thing that I learned that really surprised me is that I am a stressed out person. I always thought of myself as being relatively calm and relaxed most of the time but after doing breathing exercises and yoga nidra I have learned what being calm and relaxed truly means. Another thing that I learned about myself that was pretty surprising is how inflexible I truly am. Since I’ve been playing sports for the majority of my life I’ve always just assumed that I was pretty flexible too. However, after doing asanas I quickly realized that this wasn’t true. “
“I learned that I am capable of letting my mind go and not think about the stresses of daily life. I just need to take this time to do nothing. I have also learned that yoga is about you and your capabilities. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and yoga focuses on accepting the fact that you may not be able to do a certain pose, etc. but you can focus on the other poses you are able to achieve.”
“I learned that I need to take the time to relax and focus to relieve my stress. By doing this I am more productive then when I tried to work through it. I also learned that by doing the practice multiple times a week I will be more energized and focused through the week. This helped me in all aspects of my life from being energized and focused in soccer and in my classes.”
“Yoga is all about emotional connection to exercises. Meditation is a big part of any practice. The breath is a great way to relax and stay in the moment. Yoga focuses on a connection to the present moment.”
“First, I did not realize how spiritual the practice of yoga is. I thought it was just a form of exercise for stretching and strength. I quickly realized that these practices are closely related to nature and the inner spirits. Second, I learned that yoga can help you rather quickly. In just one semester’s time I made great progress in my flexibility, especially in my hamstrings. I didn’t really notice it until recently when I thought about how inflexible I used to be. Also, I learned to appreciate meditation and the time it takes because sometimes it just takes time to yourself in order to relieve stress; whether it be emotional or physical stress. To be completely honest, at the beginning of the semester I kind of saw yoga as a bunch of people in a room laying in a bunch of weird positions. But now, I realize that yoga is beneficial in numerous ways. From the simple warm palms trick to open your eyes into light, to the stretches that helped me gain some flexibility, to the meditations that do really relax the body, my skepticisms are gone. Some positions I didn’t find helpful very much, but many of them I could find ways in which they helped within the time span of one semester. I think that this experience in general has taught me to keep a more open mind and has led me towards the “don’t knock it til you try it” attitude. I think this is more important than any gain in flexibility or strength. ”
What was your favorite part of yoga class and why?
“My favorite part of class is the feeling I have when I leave. Because the class is my first of the day, I often feel tired and lethargic at the beginning, but energized, grateful, and happy leaving it. Since my lacrosse career ended last spring, I have felt a bit lost without an activity outside of academia where I can focus on personal improvement and wellness. Your class has ignited a passion for yoga, redeeming that self- drive and passion I find invaluable to my life.”
“My favorite part of yoga class is that I can come in stressed about the day and then leave calm. I love how it is a care free environment meaning that if I walk into class a few minutes late because of traffic it won’t be a big deal and I can just grab my mat and find a spot. I also like that there is always an alternative to a pose if a certain part of your body is hurting that day.”
“My favorite part of yoga class this semester was getting back to the basics. Yoga is less about the ‘power yoga’ and ‘daring postures’ it is targeted socially as and more about deliberate, habitual, gentle introspection. I’ve learned exactly how beneficial the later is these sixteen weeks and am better for it.”
“I did not have a favorite part about yoga class. I loved everything about it because it showed me ways I can reduce stress. It also showed me that it doesn’t take a lot of time to do yoga and that it is easy to do it while walking to class.”
“When we did that breathing where you stop and interrupt your breath, that was one of my favorites. It made me breathe deeper for the rest of the day and then I would realize when I was laying in bed at night I would be so relaxed and I would feel so good! Also there are a few nights where I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m wide awake, so I have started doing this and I passed out each time! I also really loved sun salutation as well and I know I will be doing this in the summer a lot, especially on the beach on vacations! It is seriously a good workout if you do it enough. There were some days I woke up the next day after yoga and I was like why am I so sore!?
“My favorite part of yoga class has been the meditation practices. This has been my favorite because it takes my mind off of all the thoughts running through my head every single hour of the day. Also I generally feel better after the practices are over. Whether it is that I am more awake, or that I physically feel as if all the tension has left my body.”
“We have meditated using Yoga Nidra, and in a seated pose with Kaya Sthairyam and Antar Mouna. At first I had a really hard time staying awake. As weeks went by I was able to stay awake consistently and I got better and better at preventing myself from getting distracted. I really enjoyed it. I was in some stressful situations this semester and I was able to forget about my stress during the meditation period, and when the practice was over I felt like I could look at my problems in a more clear-headed way. It was almost like looking at my problems from a third person perspective.”
“My favorite part was my increased flexibility. I also liked the relaxation part. I’m a tightly wound person in general so anything that decreases stress is something I should probably do.”
“I think everyone should know about Yoga Nidra! I also think the abdominal exercises and sun salutation poses are helpful. It really helped me to be able to identify what muscles each pose focuses on, and what the benefits were emotionally, mentally, and physically. At first, I was just focused on the physical changes in my body, but I can know identify mental and emotional aspects of each pose, and I know what to do if I’m feeling stressed, or overwhelmed, or tired. I am more in tune of my body, and I have yoga to thank for that. I really appreciated you sharing your experiences and helping us find poses that help us with our own problems or worries.”
“I love Yoga Nidra. I find it to be very helpful and a great way to relieve stress. It also is a great way to calm my very active mind. I can let the day go and just be at peace. “
“My favorite part of the class is definitely yoga nidra. Lying down and relaxing after a few rounds of sun salutation is one of the best feelings ever. I was able to relax and manage my anxiety and I found this useful because I would have weekly quizzes immediately after yoga. Relaxing beforehand definitely helped with those.”
“My favorite part of the yoga class has just been to have a time dedicated each week to just overall relaxation and focusing on myself. I feel as though the class gave me the discipline that I needed to commit to regularly practicing yoga. The practice plans were a favorite of mine as well because without them, I would have struggled with putting together a set of complimentary practices for myself.”
“My favorite part of yoga class was probably doing asana. Although I didn’t like it at first as it showed to me how truly inflexible I was. I made it a goal of mine to get more flexible so I would really push myself while doing asana exercises. Also, since there are so many asana practices, I really enjoyed when we would put many of them together into one whole practice.”
” I love the sun salutation. It tests both my strength and flexibility. I can see myself continuing to do this practice in the summer outside. After the sun salutation, I feel energized.”
“Before taking this class, I never really realized how my mind is racing constantly throughout the day. I learned that focusing on the breath alone is a way to force my mind to slow down and to relax. I also was previously unaware of the many physical health benefits of yoga aside from the most obvious ones such as increased strength and flexibility. I have now been exposed to countless asanas, and many boast a long list of specific health benefits that may be gained by practicing them.”
“My favorite part about yoga was the meditation part. I was really able to relax during this which I do not get to do very often. It also helped me focus and take my mind off of the different things to relieve my stress. I love that when I do yoga I am more relaxed and therefore get a lot more accomplished.“
How will you continue to integrate the tools of yoga that you have learned this semester into your daily life?
“I will focus on breath awareness and meditation, as I strongly believe in the power it has to help with so many aspects of my life. I will continue to practice the asanas, as they’ve given me a necessary balance to the other physical activities I do. I plan to practice mindfulness and continue to be hyperaware of how my body feels, both physically and mentally, on a daily basis. As someone who is typically busy, stressed, and struggles with anxiety, I want to continue to practice yoga at least 5-6 days a week, incorporating meditation practices regularly. Thank you for such a wonderful experience!”
“I will wake up in the morning and do the simple wrist rotations, ankle rotation and knee bending to make my body alert. When I am walking in the hallway heading to class I will remember that I am walking. Same with breathing, because I don’t always focus on my breath. I am also going to practice laying in shavasana at some point during the day when I’m stressed.”
“I will continue to integrate yoga into my life by grabbing the ground and sticking to the fundamentals. Practices of small, methodological movements will rejuvenate me in the morning and focused sun salutation will tire me before bed. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to be reminded of the importance of carrying concentration at my heart center and will definitelybe a big take away from class this semester. Yoga is reclaiming spiritual heritage in a lot of small movements, another big take away from class this semester.”
“I will definitely start using these tools I learned this semester everyday, as I already have. Little things just as counting my breathes while getting frustrated at the person driving in front of me has even helped. I am going to start attending a yoga class at my work, the YMCA, twice a week as well because I loved the way I felt after class and I want to keep feeling like that! It’s so nice to be in a room where nothing else matters, you are living for that exact moment in time, and you don’t have to worry about anything else. I really enjoyed your class and benefited from it this semester. You were a great teacher and you explained everything awesome! You also have a fantastic “yoga voice”!! So thank you for making this semester very stress free for me and I hope to take another one of your classes in the future!!
“I will most definitely be using the tools that I learned this semester into my daily life. I have already integrated some of the techniques and poses that we have been taught throughout the semester, and I plan to continue using them. Every morning I wake up in bed, and save some extra time to do toe, ankle, and wrist bending. Also, I have made a habit of completing sun salutations before bed. I wouldlike to incorporate sun salutations into early mornings, but as of right now I tend to sleep in! Also, I never thought that yoga could make me so relaxed and stress free. Before this class I have taken some other classes, but they never made me as relaxed as this class did. After yoga, I would feel so good for the rest of the entire day.”
“I will definitely implement having an open mind. I started this class with a negative view of yoga and was annoyed with it at first. However, doing the practices and seeing how much my body has changed, I’ve become more open and appreciative. I never thought I would actually try to walk and meditate at the same time. Trying new things is important to learn about yourself. I think one of the major takeaways I learned from yoga is to always be aware of how you are doing. We constantly walk without even realizing what we are doing or where we are going! I will make it a priority to check in with myself daily.”
“I will continue to integrate the tools of yoga into my daily life in many ways. Focusing on my breath has become a big deal to me. I also will continue practicing meditation every day because there is nothing better than full self-awareness. Finally, living a lifestyle that consistently allows me to grow and become a better version of myself is an important goal now.”
“I’m going to try to continue doing some of the stretches we did in class. I honestly would like to find a yoga class, which just did some of the basic exercises we did. I don’t think I will ever enjoy doing more advanced yoga like inversions, but I was pleased to see that class was a relaxing environment where I could relieve some stress and improve my flexibility at the same time.”
“I have already started to integrate the tools of yoga into my daily life and I hope to continue it after the class is over. Primarily, I’ll be continuing to use yoga nidra and other meditation practices for when things get a little too crazy or anxious in my life. I also hope to continue the abdominal strengthening poses into my usual work outs so that I can eventually complete the headstand pose. I will continue to use the different breathing techniques to help me focus and center myself whenever I need it.”
“I will try and keep practicing yoga after this class is over because I feel better and more aware of what is going on in my life. I also feel like it has helped my swimming because I am more flexible and focused. This class has also shown me that I can practice yoga nidra for 20 minutes and feel relaxed and rested when I did not have a lot of sleep the night before. I would also like to eventually be able to build up the more advanced poses that are described in the book (Asana, Pranayam, Mudra Bandha” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati).”
“I will continue to perform yoga nidra rather than take naps. I also plan to make time for yoga when I am feeling stressed out. I will take time to focus on myself and become aware of how I’m feeling. Yoga has taught me stop putting myself last. I must continue to make time for myself, because if I’m not feeling well, I cannot perform well in classes. I’ve become so used to practicing every week, so I anticipate the continuation of this habit even it is just a few quick wrist rotations after a long day of writing a paper.”
“Yoga is becoming a part of my daily life! I do the hand and ankle rotations in bed every morning to wake up, and when I’m doing homework for long periods of time I always finish by doing some poses that help stretch my spine, because I feel hunched over and tight. And of course, breathing is always a key when I need to relax and calm down. I am able to identify what my body needs, and thanks to yoga, I have tools to give my body the energy, or relaxation, it needs to be healthy and happy.”
“I learned that I benefit greatly from yoga when I use it when I wake up. It’s a great way to begin the day. I had been having issues with getting out of bed, but now it is much easier. I learned that yoga can be focused on different body systems. I liked the digestive series. I had always thought yoga was just focused on poses to benefit balance and flexibility. It’s interesting to learn about different focuses. I felt that the way that you taught was very effective. I could connect to your methods easily. I felt comfortable in the class. I also felt challenged to push myself.”
“I will continue to use Yoga to relieve stress in my life. It also is strengthening my muscles and I’d rather do yoga than lift weights. I feel like yoga is a great way to calm myself down, because music education is a high stress major. I also have friends that practice so we can get together and practice together. Thank you so much for sharing!”
“In my daily life, I plan to continue working on the meditations and yoga nidra. For me, these are skills that I never missed in my life until I experienced them, and they are so effective at providing me the stress relief and awareness that I need on a daily basis. Also, I love bhramari, and I can see myself doing this practice frequently. I often get so overwhelmed by life and wish that I could slow everything down and catch my breath (no pun intended), and all the breathing practices allow me to feel more grounded and in control of my life. Finally, I’ve been really inspired by my physical progress in the class and I plan on continuing to improve my strength, balance, and flexibility through frequent yoga, so that maybe one day I’ll be able to perform poses like the scorpion with ease!”
“I have enjoyed having time set aside to relax completely and not worry about the other things going on that day or week. It can be hard sometimes to take time out of your day on your own. Having a structured class helps make you do it at first. After getting used to doing yoga in class, it was easier to start doing it on my own. Now without having to go to swim practice, I am more easily able to incorporate it into my daily life.”
“I will continue to integrate the tools that I’ve learned this semester into my daily life by making exercise and total body wellness a routine. I will continue to do home practices, focusing on my posture with each pose, making sure I’m doing each one correctly and not putting too much strain on any part of my body. I’m going to focus on correcting my posture when sitting down at my laptop or in class, just to work on keeping my shoulders back and my chest open.”
“I will definitely try to keep doing the poses we learned in class to stay in shape. I want to tighten my core and gain some upper arm strength. I can use various breathing techniques to manage my anxiety. This will help when I am taking exams or presenting in front of a class during school. “
“I plan on continuing to regularly practice yoga. I will try to incorporate it into my daily routine, as well as doing simple things such as ankle and wrist rotations throughout the day. I am going to start creating my own practice plans to get started with independently pursuing yoga progression. I will also journal in order to observe how the practices are affecting me both physically and mentally.”
“I see myself integrating yoga in my life in many ways. Knowing that I know that am a relatively stressed out person I will definitely pull myself away for a moment when I see that I am stressed and I will do some breathing exercises to help calm me down and relax. If I am really stressed I might even take a few minutes to do Shavasana meditation (corpse pose) to get myself back in the right state of mind. Also, upon waking up in the morning I will for sure do some asana exercises to get my blood going and heart rate up. These execrates will wake me up and truly get me ready for my day. “
“I believe that I will continue to practice the sun salutation weekly. I also will continue to utilize the breath awareness practices if I feel myself getting stressed out or anxious. I can also see myself learning more about mediation and also incorporating mediation practices into my daily life. These seem to help with stress and anxiety as well. I hope to use the tools I have learned to help me continue through school and work.”
“The stretches for different parts of my body will be very prevalent as I continue to lift weights regularly in my life. The stress reduction techniques will also be used regularly when I find myself stressed. The breathing focus is and mental stillness will always be a tool when finals come around. The ab workout poses are also something I will do occasionally while in front of the TV.”
“A tool that I have taken away from yoga is becoming aware of the breath and knowing that I can use this whenever I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This practice is convenient in that it can be done anywhere, and I have learned that focusing on and counting my breaths is instantly relaxing for me. It is the concentration on breathing that really ties each yoga practice together for me and helped me to realize why it is such an important part of yoga. I have come to enjoy practicing yoga first thing when I wake up in the morning, before bed or when I need a mental break, and the positive mental and emotional results I get from doing so and the physical results that come with continued practice make it even more worth continuing. “
“I will continue to do yoga every week to help control my stress. I will do it in the mornings so that I feel energized for the rest of the day as well. I also will work on my flexibility in my practices. In addition to these, I will continue to do the meditation to relax and relieve stress. This will help me to enjoy my days more. “
Well there you have it! As you can see by the above comments, there are so many tools in yoga, that when applied regularly, can help to manage physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The students found that yoga isn’t about quantity, but instead about frequency, and consistancy.
What other “proof” do you need to start practicing yoga today?