Campus yoga classes condition your body, mind


Breathe in deeply. Exhale slowly.

Feel your body begin to relax, starting with your toes; now, your shins, thighs and hips. Feel your back muscles release the tension. Drop your shoulders lower, and with your hands pointed to the floor, imagine your stress being pushed out through your fingertips, into the earth.

Now you are ready to be taught, step-by-step, how to stretch your body into a series of poses, bringing relaxation and physical exertion together to naturally work against gravity with your movements, benefiting your physical and psychological well-being.

Typically, athletes will increase their physical activity to warm-up before exercising, but yoga incorporates counter-logic by relaxing and opening up your body for more self-awareness during a workout.

UNF yoga instructor Ashley Greene said the complex positions yoga incorporates are proven to increase a person’s health, flexibility, isometric strength and reduce tension.

Other poses concentrate on balance, such as standing on one foot or balancing your weight on both hands, centering yourself with the universe.

UNF history graduate student Carmen Derrick frequently attends UNF’s free yoga classes offered Monday through Friday in the Arena.

Before Derrick started doing yoga, she thought it would be too difficult for her, even though being a lifeguard in Hawaii kept her in shape,” she said.

“The positions you contort in, I didn’t think I would have the ability to do,” she said. “But once I got past that, certainly I realized how ridiculous it was I ever had those reservations.”

Eleven years after her initial encounter with yoga, Derrick still reaps the benefits and is dedicated to practicing yoga.

“Another thing that really surprised me was the change I felt in myself after just a very short amount of time,” Derrick said. “My body felt better, [and the newfound] flexibility was amazing.”

Certified through the Yoga Alliance, Greene, a senior nutrition major, remembers when there were little more than 20 participants. After coming back to teach during the fall last year, the number of participants had doubled.

“I think most of [the participants] come without yoga experience but have quickly picked it up,” Greene said. “I have seen drastic improvements with students who come regularly.”

Derrick attends Greene’s hatha yoga classes and considers the instructor to have a calming demeanor, which helps Derrick relax and feel comfortable during the meditation and exercises, she said.

“[Meditation paired with yoga] has really been a tool to come to a place of stillness and to improve my health and wellness,” Derrick said. “We have to discipline ourselves to be still because it’s so counterculture; We’ve always been taught to go-go-go.”

Yoga was first introduced to the UNF campus in 1999, and in the past it was available as a one-credit academic course. Theresa Kistel was a certified group fitness instructor for the course offered last fall. She said some benefits of practicing yoga are more body awareness, better breathing and focus, reduction in pain and increased strength and muscular endurance.

“I think a lot of [students] were surprised at how much of a work-out it is,” Kistel said.

She got the chance to watch her students become more flexible, strong and calm during the subsequent months.

“As with any form of exercise, it can be kind of disheartening at first because you’re not seeing any results, or it feels uncomfortable or strange,” Derrick said. “[But] I absolutely would recommend it to anybody.”

E-mail April Schulhauser at [email protected]