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Beyond the Mat- Benefits of Yoga at University.

Earlier this year I was asked to write a piece that would be used as part of her 3rd year final major project by Yogi and talented illustrator/ designer Ally Rollinson of Birmingham City University. The piece would be used alongside Ally's illustrations and form part of a Mental Health Magazine, targeted at younger people and University students.

I am a huge advocate that Yoga is so much more than a physical practice, and the more asana or "exercise" focused classes that are often now found in the West, and was so grateful and honoured to be asked to share my thoughts, which are below. The illustrations that accompanied this are within the piece, aand Ally's details can also be found at the bottom of the blog post.

Guiding University Yoga classes has a very special place in my heart. It was not only one of my first regular classes, but also still to this day an area I am deeply passionate about, and absolutely love guiding the classes each week.

When I was at University (quite a few moons ago!) I’m not sure that there was a University Yoga Society- or if there was, I certainly wasn’t aware of it. So, it’s amazing to see and get to be part of a growing trend of Universities having their own Yoga Societies.

University can be an amazingly fun experience (I should know I went)! However, it can also be an incredibly busy and stressful time, and a time of huge change. Finding your feet in a new city or area, making new friends, managing finances, and that's not even taking into consideration finding the balance between the social side and your studies.

All of this has the potential to have detrimental physical effects, but also really affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing. And this is where Yoga comes in!

Thanks to its growing popularity Yoga has become more accessible, and whether as an individual we are drawn to the physical aspect (asana), the more spiritual aspects, the relaxation and meditation, or a combination of many things- there are so many benefits to Yoga! And these benefits can be so much further reaching than just that guided 60 minutes of practice each week on the Yoga mat.

One of the greatest things about Yoga is that you don’t have to be good at Yoga to do Yoga! You don’t need to be flexible or strong- but Yoga will help to develop these areas if you so wish. You don’t need any knowledge of Yoga, any special equipment or the latest sportswear. You just need yourself, your breath and a willingness to give it a go. Guides of past and present will tell you “If you can breathe, you can do Yoga.”

There are so many amazing benefits to the practice of Yoga, as a holistic approach to taking care of mind, body and soul. Just a few of these (with more focus on the mental/ emotional aspects) are listed below.

Teaches correct breathing techniques

Reduces stress and anxiety

Promotes mindfulness

Improves confidence and self esteem

Improves memory and attention span

Improves sleep quality

Promotes self- love & self- care

Improves overall physical health

I could talk for ages and pages about the wonders of Yoga- from past personal experiences of depression and anxiety, Yoga has quite literally changed my life. Getting to share this practice with University students is truly amazing. Seeing their focus shift away from the troubles of the day or week as we move into the practice, the stillness and surrender in their Savasana (relaxation), and the calm and peaceful smiles as the practice ends is quite simply so wonderful, I cannot put it into words!

"Karine provides a wonderful yoga session which always helps to realign my mind, often after a very hard day at Uni. It's a really nice blend of workout/ relax with such a soothing ambience. A great way to start the week off on a Monday evening."

BCU Yoga Society President, December 2018/19

Practicing Yoga can also help within their studies and exams giving them better clarity and focus, improved memory and attention span, and improved quality of sleep which can take a hit when trying to maintain the balance of social, study and often working during University.

If they can take the smallest portion of that into the rest of their day/ week / a challenging situation at University or in general life, then how fantastic is that! I personally believe that every educational establishment should not only offer the option of, but encourage the practice of Yoga, especially through what can be the more stressful and anxious times- induction, exams, end of course.

For me, Yoga isn’t about teaching students how to touch their toes and do handstands (though these physical aspects may become more accessible with a regular asana practice), it’s so much more than this that can be taken off the mat and into their everyday lives during their time at University- and perhaps beyond!

It’s allowing them time to slow down, to breathe, time to just simply be. Often time to quieten the busy mind, learn to be mindful and in the present moment rather than future tripping or dwelling on the past. It’s also time to be yourself, express yourself through movement of the body, perhaps challenge yourself a little, coax yourself out of your comfort zone, or maybe even realise and accept certain limitations or your body and minds need for rest and softness at that time. In this way it can teach them self-compassion, self-care and self-love of body and mind.

As is life sometimes parts of the University journey may not go exactly to plan or the way they had hoped. Yoga can not only give students time out from these situations physically and mentally but can help them with better coping strategies to deal with situations that may be challenging, and to rationalise and gain perspective when needed.

Another wonderful element of Yoga for students- community. It can encourage new friendships to blossom, build a community of people, and for each individual to feel part of something in a welcoming and none judgemental space. The Yoga Societies often run social events which can be a lovely time to really get to know other people who share a common interest.

“There's such a lovely, non-judgmental atmosphere in classes."

Yoga Society Student, February 2019.

Many of the students I guide tell me that when they feel stress or anxiety building, they have taken time out to do some breathing, a little bit of physical practice, or both- and this makes me so incredibly happy!

Guiding students to and showing them the ways in which they can look a