How Yoga Can Significantly Benefit College Students
by Gwen Everett, contributor
“Yoga is considered a mind-body exercise because of the awareness of the felt-experience of the body and the effects it has on the brain.”
Yoga and meditation have become all the rage in the 21st century, providing a foundation for younger and older generations alike. Several studies have found that the number of college students practicing yoga has increased each year and students have noticed improvements in their academics, relationships, and overall mental health. The Yoga Journal reported about 300 million yoga practitioners worldwide and the number of Americans practicing yoga grew 50% between 2012 and 2016. Additionally, a study from the National Institute of Health found that yoga has positive effects on psychophysiological level that leads to decreased levels of stress in college students. Yoga holds potential as a self-empowering, non-pharmacological method for enhancing stress management and wellness in college students.
“Yoga is considered a mind-body exercise because of the awareness of the felt-experience of the body and the effects it has on the brain,” Shannon Lucas, mental health counselor and fitness instructor said. “While students make their bodies physically stronger in their practice, they also practice how to listen to their body and cultivate a vital breathing technique that synchronizes breath with movement. The practice of controlled breathing is a focus itself and refining that helps people to focus better on the outside world.”
Yoga has served as a staple to many individuals life. Kaya Reingold, Candace Neal and Gardiner Perotti explain the many benefits yoga has served in their lives and helped them succeed in both academics and their careers.
Benefits of Yoga For College Students
Kaya Reingold, a senior at SMU, says yoga has been the only stable thing in her life.
At 6:00 a.m. five days a week, Reingold finds herself in the same place for one hour. For the past year, her yoga mat has marked the one place she can collect enough energy, focus, love, and breath to translate into every area of her life.
“I always had a hard time focusing in school and that would cause me to get anxiety about everything,” Reingold said. “Yoga has benefited my academics and life because it has enabled me to get less stressed out about my tasks at hand. I used to get major anxiety when I had too many assignments or when life got tough, but now I can alleviate all of that simply by taking 10 minutes to do a yoga or meditation class. When I return to my work I am instantly calmed and refreshed.”
For a student who has always struggled with concentration and anxiety in school, Reingold is one of many students who has gained just as much back from what she has put into her yoga practice.
“One of my favorite things about yoga is the meditation aspect, which isn’t always incorporated into every yoga class, but it’s one of the most important parts,” Reingold said. “It’s so important to take a couple minutes to yourself every day, whether that’s at the beginning or end of your day. It completely calibrates my mindset.”
Reingold got started with yoga her second year in college. Her goal for the future is to travel to Bali and India to participate in different yoga retreats and expand her knowledge and passion for yoga.
Yoga Impacting Your Career
Candace Neal, a Dallas CorePower Yoga Instructor and musician says yoga has helped her tremendously in her music career because the calming effects yoga serves has helped her overcome performance anxiety.
“I recommend every college student giving yoga a chance,” Neal said. “It helps everyone in so many areas and in different ways that it may be the answer you’ve been looking for – you can find it all in yoga and I wish someone had told me this sooner. It’s so helpful for bringing in more mindfulness and focus when doing homework and sitting through classes.”
Neal says when she first started doing yoga, she only did relaxation and meditation classes to help clear her mind. It wasn’t until a couple years ago when yoga became a huge fitness trend that she got into the more physical aspects of yoga.
“There are so many types of yoga that will speak to people in different ways at any given point of their life,” Neal said. “Just be patient, your class is somewhere waiting for you.”
Neal says teaching yoga is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world and she has seen how it affects people in positive ways first-hand.
“I have had students start yoga to jumpstart their fitness journey, but then find so much more value in it than the physical aspects, that when they start to allow themselves the vulnerability of being open to all their feelings on their mat,” Neal said. “One student cried one day because she finally able, after 6 months, to lay down her forehead on the mat in pigeon pose. Which was such an amazing experience, because initially I had to encourage her to not force herself into poses her body wasn’t ready for. The more she came, the more she listened to her body and found where she could in each class, making little baby step progress. After that class, she said she had been allowing herself to make similar choices off of her mat - not forcing anything, having more patience within herself, her job, and those around her.”
Yoga’s Impact on College Athletes
Yoga also has significant effects on athletic performance.
Gardner Perotti, the caption of the SMU Men’s tennis team, explains his team’s journey and success from incorporating yoga into their schedule each week. Since 2016 when he first joined the team, yoga has been a staple in their training each week.
“Yoga is important to the team because it gives us a type of workout and movement that we don't normally experience,” Gardiner said. “Practices usually consist of high intensity interval training, which causes our muscles to tighten up. By doing yoga, we're able to loosen our muscles back out and prevent injuries while we're playing.”
A study from the National Institute of Health found that the practice of yoga as part of traditional training methods enhances the components of fitness that are essential components of sports performance.
“Yoga also helps tremendously with tennis injuries,” Perotti said. “Typically, our injuries relating to muscles are preventable, and occur because we failed to stretch enough. By doing yoga, we're held accountable to simultaneously stretching and strengthening our muscles for at least an hour. This act alone helps us reduce our risk of muscle-related injuries.”
As many individuals, especially athletes, are aware of the benefits of stretching before and after physical exercise, a study from Concordia University found that yoga teaches individuals the proper way to strength certain muscles and also teaches you to listen to your body and know when to stop.
Perotti says many players have noticed a dramatic increase in their attention and concentration levels during matches since starting yoga.
“Since we are forced to focus on one movement at a time in yoga, our minds are familiar and comfortable with focusing on one task or goal during a match,” Perotti said. “It also helps us avoid getting distracted from the crowds.”
One of the most important aspect for any athlete is their mental performance and breathing strategies. A study for Pew Research Center found that yoga can help with one’s mental strength as it helps you focus, reduces stress, and stabilizes emotions.
Perotti says he didn’t start implementing yoga into his routine during high school, so he really saw the difference it made in my game when he started doing yoga in college.
As found from these individuals, yoga can be the answer to too many questions and difficulties in life. Yoga has been helped many different individuals combat anxiety, strive in academics, and it has provided an overall foundation for many individuals no matter what their passion is. Each of these individuals recommends giving yoga a try because of the ways it has impacted their lives in ways they never imagined before trying yoga.
About the author: Gwen Everett is a senior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Gwen has recently completed her yoga teacher training and is the yoga instructor for the SMU tennis team. Gwen also serves as the president of the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter on SMU campus.