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When I first went to a free yoga class at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s recreation center in the winter of my sophomore year of college, I never realized how it would change my life.
I entered the space with a sense of discomfort; I hadn’t practiced yoga in several years and was hesitant to observe the stiffness of my limbs and unevenness of my breath. The other students around me seemed familiar with these classes and overall more comfortable within their skin.
At the time, I was facing mental health challenges, and a counselor recommended that I try the free yoga class at the recreation center. Willing to try anything, I decided to give it a shot.
The first class I took was led by a student. She invited us into a space with lit candles and gentle music. Even though my initial class was an adjustment, I still went back. And then, I went back again. In fact, it soon became clear to me I wanted to be an instructor myself.
I am a journalism major, and could never have imagined that college would allow me access to anything beyond a career in my area of study. But after completing my 200-hour yoga teaching certification over the summer, I was ready to apply to teach at the recreation center.
According to Eric Alexander, assistant coordinator of Cal Poly’s fitness programs, 16 out of the 46 fitness instructors at the recreation center are students. A huge benefit of hiring students as fitness instructors, he said, is the affinity with their peers as students.
“Students bring great energy to fitness programs, and they get the opportunity to positively impact and motivate their peers,” Alexander said. “That student experience is not only valuable to the instructors but to participants and the program as well.”
I saw this as soon as I entered the teaching space. My classes are sometimes filled with 40 or 50 students, many of them regulars who return on a weekly basis. I have found that my being a college student makes my students less hesitant to approach me after class to ask questions or simply to share what the class meant to them.
This accessibility to the physical and mental benefits of yoga helped me to recenter and grow as a person and as a student. Additionally, I came to realize I wanted to help others on their journey of healing. In this role as a fitness instructor, I have been able to expand access to yoga to my college community.
Yoga practice draws on a rich history of healing through mind-body connection which can help to promote mindfulness and reduce tension. Especially for college students, this kind of physical practice can be incredibly beneficial.
According to research cited by the National Library of Medicine, “Yoga has positive effects on a psychophysiological level that leads to decreased levels of stress in college students.”
With the average yoga class in a studio costing $15-$25 per session, yoga’s benefits are often not accessible to many young people. I have seen for my students how getting to come to a free class on campus allows them access to a practice that may seem too expensive or daunting to explore on their own.
Cal Poly and other public universities also offer other free group physical activity classes, such as cycling, dance, pilates, high-intensity interval training and much more, allowing students to explore what activity is most beneficial for them.
I am grateful that pursuing my passion for yoga has been supported by my university and while teaching me something that I love to share with other college students: pursuing a passion or side interest while in school will serve to enrich your life, and in my case, the lives of others.
Consistently after my classes, students approach me to share how the space has helped them to recenter and find peace in the midst of busy days of school. I encourage them to not only continue their personal practice of yoga, but consider teacher training if they are interested.
Using my platform as a student fitness instructor, I am able to share my personal passion for yoga to promote healing, growth, and mindfulness in my college community. And I have gained experience for a career in teaching yoga, which I intend on maintaining as a side job after college.
Arabel Meyer is a fourth-year journalism major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.
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