Flowing through college: Yoga and academic stress
“Exhaling, letting go, telling yourself that there’s time to think about [stressors] later…”
Ambient music plays in the background of yogi Hannah Garrett’s holistic yoga class. Taught in the middle of the day on Wednesday, Nov. 14, the class created a space for students to decompress between classes.
Garrett, a senior and Exercise Science major, has been practicing yoga since her first year of college in fall 2015, and now teaches yoga at UMD and various yoga studios like Runa Yoga in Duluth. The subject of her research this semester has been the effects of yoga on stress in college students.
Garrett said her passion for yoga began once she started college.
“I was really struggling with anxiety, being away from home for the first time and trying to find my ‘place’ at UMD,” Garrett said in an email. “I saw a poster about Yoga Club and always knew it was something I wanted to try, so I started going and [have been] hooked ever since.”
Now the president of Yoga Club, Garrett says that the club provides an outlet for students and faculty alike to destress.
“As it was for me, Yoga Club provides the same accessible stress relief to students of any age and ability,” Garrett said. “We do not cost money, we provide free yoga mats, we add a variety of instructors to our schedule and we offer this once every week for everyone and anyone.”
What you gain from yoga is about the intention you set going into it, according to Garrett.
“Yoga is good for whatever you could possibly want it to be good for,” Garrett said. “If you want to de-stress, you will have that intention going into it and see results. If you want to feel strong and move your body, you will have that intention going into it and see those results. Yoga is whatever you want to make it, and that is why I love it so much. Personally, yoga has brought me a deeper sense of purpose in our crazy, chaotic lives.”
Second-year student and Teaching Spanish major, Greta Buehler, practices yoga following in her grandma’s footsteps. It helps her deal with stress from academics.
“Physically, it makes me feel amazing,” Buehler said. “Most of the time when I’m stressed my back and shoulders are really tight. Doing yoga is one way to help release the tension in your muscles and give your body a chance to stretch and move in ways that it typically doesn’t.”
Garrett’s Holistic Yoga and Journaling event, sponsored by WRAC, was put together in hopes of bringing awareness to the different facets of health in our lives.
“Holistic health is divided into five categories — physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual — all of which are essential to learn about and understand their impacts on us,” Garrett explained. “Explaining each of these aspects of holistic health to students should hopefully raise awareness about what we are, or aren't, taking care of in our lives.”
Buehler agrees that yoga can be part of a self-care routine.
“It gives you the opportunity to empty your mind of everything that worries you and focus on self-care,” Buehler said. “It’s like doing a face mask but you also get to work on meditation and being present.”
Garrett discussed various ways to take care of your health in her holistic yoga class. As an example, for emotional health, she suggested journaling as a way to acknowledge and let go of “unsaid feelings or thoughts.” Meditation, sleep, exercise and talking to friends are other ways of taking care of your health.
Garrett had the opportunity to work with Dr. Charles Fountaine and Mrs. Kelley Phillips this semester, both of whom work in the department of Applied Human Sciences, on the first-ever UROP on yoga at UMD.
“Specifically, my research project was ‘The Acute Effects of Yoga on Physiological and Psychological Measures of Stress in College Students,’” Garrett explained. “I took 20 physically active college students and had them take a survey about their current mood before and after a 20-minute yoga session. During that time, I was also measuring their heart rate variability, which is basically the time it takes for your heart to beat. My results showed that even just a 20-minute yoga session had indicative data for stress relief both physically and mentally in college students.”
This research shows that “even if you feel crunched for time, you can fit a brief yoga session into your day to potentially alleviate your stress levels,” as Garrett said.
Garrett hopes to present this research in Orlando, FL, next May at the National American College of Sports Medicine Convention.
With finals week rapidly approaching, students may be feeling heightened stress over exams. Taking the time to take care of yourself in between studying for exams is one way for students to stay healthy going into winter break, whether that be through yoga, going for a walk, or simply making sure to get enough sleep.
Yoga Club meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in SPHC 135.