I took my first yoga class as a college freshman in the late 1990s.
It was my first semester.
At the time, I wasn’t really looking to expand my consciousness. I don’t think they had yet coined the term ‘stress relief.’ I couldn’t tell you the difference between Bakasana and Tadasana.
What I really wanted to do was knock out one of my phys ed requirements in the most painless way possible. This meant avoiding any sort of semester-long engagement where I would have to 1) serve, shoot or bat a ball against a contingent of angry defenders or 2) thrice-weekly don a swimsuit.
We didn’t have the internet when I started college; this meant one could not register from the sanctity of one’s laptop.
The websites and apps we know know were still a glimmer in the eye of somebody still in heaven (or, given your opinion of technology, somebody down there in hell.)
The registration room was lined with long tables and filing card boxes on that fateful early morning. Each box, labeled with the name of a class, contained a predetermined number of notecards. When all the cards in the box had been drawn, all the slots in class were filled. My comrades and I migrated around the various tables, armed with lists of classes, and back-up classes and back-up, back-up classes.
It was like a game of Family Feud where everybody had been to a big party the night before and was more than a little groggy. You make a best guess and then a second and third, and when your luck runs out, you either start making really silly guesses, until you lose forever and the game passes to Uncle Fillmore from the other team, with his clipboard and pocket protector and superior life-planning skills.
Things were going well until I made it to the phys ed table. All the good stuff was gone—until, there, in the box marked ‘YOGA T-Th 3:30,’ I found it: one single remaining class card.
Salvation. Serendipity, perhaps.
The universe had spoken. Who was I to argue? I took the card and got into the check-out line.
‘How did you get that class as a freshman? Wow!’ another woman at registration remarked. I knew something—maybe wonderful, maybe horrible—was afoot.
Our yoga class was held in a large room on campus covered with thick oriental carpeting and old windows, the kind which were beautiful but required a lot of upkeep: painting and grouting and polishing.
The room seemed to echo a quiet kind of eternity, a respite from the hustle-and-bustle of daily life on campus. It had been used as a hospital for those wounded during the Civil War. Every once in a while, usually late at night, somebody would think they had seen a ghost.
Apparently, I was not the only one to attest to its otherworldly power. Worship services would be held here. Holiday concerts would be held there. Student clubs would host speakers. In four years, the big bay windows to this room would be opened and I would receive my diploma on the big stone steps in front of this room.
The yoga teacher was performing middle-of-the-floor handstand when I entered prior to the first class. There was a sort of majestic grace to the whole thing. It was definitely something new. All my other professors usually seemed to be shuffling papers or signing add/drop slips prior to class.
She then belted out a solo on the baby grand piano rolled off into the corner. I was intimidated. I stopped dead in my tracks. I almost, in fact, dropped my coffee and extra large cookie.
We would perform many long, slow holds during the course of the semester—probably what would be classified as yin yoga nowadays. There were twists ‘a plenty and more seated meditation and alternate nostril breathing than is probably acceptable these days (now that we have the wheel and fire and all of that good stuff.)
I wore a shiny pair of shiny blue Adidas workout shorts and my roomy pajama top, which, if I remember correctly, may, perhaps, have had birds on it.
Eventually, the twice weekly yoga class would have a positive effect on my frenetic freshman mind.
I would begin to incorporate what I had learned in yoga class into stressful situations—like studying for an exam or being paired up with that really cute guy with blonde hair for partner yoga leg stretches when I hadn’t shaved in several weeks. (Well, kind of. I wasn’t just deeply meditative. I was mortified. Sorry. Shoot me an e-mail if you read this.)
I learned to listen to my body, to ask the sorts of questions that I hadn’t known to ask—or felt it mattered to ask. Was I tensing my shoulders? Was I tensing my stomach? Was I being who I really was with others—in class, or the dorms or at parties with new friends? Who was I?
Mindfulness education is so important for college students, especially freshman, many of whom are away from home for the first time and desperately eager to ‘succeed’ academically and socially.
I grew to love those Tuesdays and Thursdays in the old room with the thick old carpet, the gentle autumn sun penetrating thick window glass during spontaneous pre-class piano solos. I had astronomy before the yoga class, in the nearby science building There, I gazed upon ancient constellations on the rounded dome above, learned of the cosmic similarities which linked—and will continue to link—we young Americans to the great civilizations of worlds past: the Babylonians, the Celts, the Norse. Who was I? How was I linked to the past? How would I be linked to the future? How could I focus on the eternal present, the force of ‘om,’ in this crazy new life as a college student?
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Ed: Sara Crolick
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