Yoga gains popularity among the student body

By Austin Sorette
On March 26, 2013


It's no surprise that one of today's most popular trends is also one of the greenest forms of exercise. With more and more people being drawn in by this ancient tradition, yoga is starting to feel the pulse of mass interest.

"There is definitely something cool about yoga and how it looks and feels challenging," said Lona Kovacs, owner of Dover-based Green Lotus Yoga Studio. "It's interesting to hear all of the things that make people walk through our door."

Yoga's stimulation of the mental, physical and spiritual aspects of oneself appeals to the growing minds of future generations and seems to provide structure for the development of a positive mental attitude.

"Yoga creates a surrounding that influences and supports yourself and your peers," Kovacs said. "You're building to make better decisions with people and wellness."

Inspired by this ethos, Green Lotus has created a program granting college students unlimited studio time in exchange for volunteer work within the local community. Called Seva, the program is similar to a work-study program and gives students a behind-the-scenes look at Ashtanga yoga while helping to improve both the studio and the community.

"(The program) allows one to develop a state of mind where work and yoga aren't mutually exclusive," Kovacs said. "Both are still built on love, care and compassion."

"Green Lotus has always been consistent with college students," said UNH graduate student Emily Klein, who frequents the yoga studio. "They do a lot of things to help students pay for classes, which in turn helps build a really strong community and a dedicated outreach." 

Klein, a practitioner of yoga for almost a decade, had been drawn to Ashtanga because of its intense yet consistent practice. It struck a chord with her because it focuses on discipline while, at the same time, harnessing the calm, cool collection that one is always trying to achieve.

"There is a lot of support for beginners," Klein said. "With the kind of strong practice that you get from programs like Ashtanga, you can get into it a little more. The local yoga studios and those involved are practicing yoga on and off the mat. For a lot of people in the community, it really is a lifestyle."

For many teachers in local yoga studios, the act of "throwing oneself head-first" into this culture is something that has become far more common in more recent years. Rochelle Jewell, founder of My Om Yoga in Greenland and instructor at Hamel Recreation Center, saw a noticeable shift in her student's interests over the years.

"When I first began teaching at UNH, it was more common for a student to take one session and then move on," Jewell said. "Today, my students try to plan their academic classes around the yoga program at the rec."

"Another thing I have noticed (is) that many students who come into a class have already practiced yoga before. In the early years, the rec program was their first introduction to yoga."

One can theorize that this intense interest could be part of the ever-changing tide of culture. But there is also the possibility that, with everything you could ever want simply a web address away, the endless opportunities can be overwhelming, especially to those individuals on the cusp of entering the "real world."

The expanding yoga culture among college-aged crowds could be attributed to students finding new ways to escape the stress of academic life. 

"The stress level in our society is incredible," Jewell said. "By the time college students find their way to yoga, they have experienced years of stress and are so ready to learn how to manage it more effectively."

The tranquility of the exercise stands at a stark contrast to the high-pressure environment of a college campus. 

For freshman Maria Tiano, a student of Jewell's, exposure to yoga led to a much-needed satisfaction removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

"Yoga has made me a calmer, nicer and more peaceful person," Tiano said. "It has increased my ability to deal with the stress of everyday life. Also the breathing and meditation aspect has helped relieve headaches that I used to have daily."

While yoga is an effective stress-relieving activity, it is by no means a "walk in the park," she added.

When Sherry Frost, a yoga teacher at UNH, led a class of ROTC students, they thought that a stretching exercise would be nothing compared to the miles they have to run every single morning. But it didn't take long after they had their palms on the mat that she had them in the palm of her hand.

"They admitted that they'd had a wrong impression about the kind of strength and balance required for the practice, and they had a better understanding of the value that yoga could add to their exercise regimen," Frost said.

"The students who come to yoga classes are looking for more than the physical benefits. They really do want to find the 'unity' of their minds, bodies, breath and spirit."

While starting yoga early offers assistance in the short-term goals of college life, instructors say the lasting effects of total relaxation will stick with students well into their adult years.

"Yoga in general is a 'green' exercise; part of the healthy planet, body, and mind," Kovacs said. "I want yoga to be for everybody."

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