Lowering the Collective Stress Levels at Cleveland State University
Fall semester 2019 is already in full swing and I am once again feeling blessed to be able to teach yoga at Cleveland State University (CSU). This is my 13th year teaching yoga classes at CSU and this semester and I am teaching for two different departments: Health and Human Performance and The Honor's College as well as in the staff and faculty development program "Journey to Wellness". I have the opportunity and pleasure to introduce over 130 students, faculty and staff to tools that can be used to manage their stress and overall health and wellbeing. When I reflect on it, it really is quite a responsiblity. However, it is one that I willingly undertake with as much passion, ethusiasm and gratefulness as possible as yoga has have been personally transformative and sharing with others what I learned is one of the best ways that I can think of to give back to my teachers and to the teachings of Satyananda Yoga.
Because I am teaching a physical education type course open to everyone in the university, it gives me the chance to interact with a variety of students as this course pulls in students, faculty and staff from every single department. Since practicing yoga regularly has been shown to raise the consciousness of the individaul by increasing their personal awareness of themselves and that of the world around them and how they operate in it, then Cleveland State University will collectively be a better place for everyone!
This is all part of the "collective stress lowering" plan that I have for the university!
Through a variety of yoga practices such as asana, pranayama, and meditation techniques they will find practices that are calming, energizing, ones that induce sleep, increase mental clarity, etc. What kind of college student DOESN”T need something like this to get through college relatively unscathed?
As already mentioned, I consider this an awesome opportunity and responsibility because many have had little formal exposure to yoga and those who have taken classes regularly, have not gone beyond the asana portion of yoga and have little or no experience with pranayama and meditation practices. So there are many "firsts" for those taking this course. For as students that seem to appreciate it the course, I am sure that some are disappointed as they were probably expecting more of a "workout" each session but instead are subjected to slowing down, to following their breath and the very worst thing ever, to sitting still!
The highlight for me in teaching all these students has been the reminder of the power of these practices. Something as simple as the Pawanmuktasana Series (joint mobility) allows students to slow down, and connect with their body and breath introducing them to relaxation through movement. Connecting them to the power of breath awareness, control and expansion through various pranayama practices with even something as simple as “natural breath awareness” can be an eye opener to them as many have never looked very closely at their breath and are realizing how this tool is available to them 24/7.
Then of course, there is blowing their minds with the guided meditation practice of Yoga Nidra!
Most students are severly sleep deprived and at the most fundemental level of Yoga Nidra, the body and mind actually get to rest for the duration of the practice. "Lie as still as possible and continue to follow the instructions." is really all that is necessary to be succesful. This is likely quite a novel idea for most students because most don't know how to slow down and be still and rarely take time out for self care, especially during a semester at school. Most know they need it but rarely will make time to do it because there is always something "more important" they could be doing.
Although I am sure that it isn't 100% across the board true for everyone, I would say a majority are thankful for the permission to slow down and rest their bodies and minds. In the middle of the school day. And for college credit. They are beating the system for sure and I don't think they even know it!
WIth only 10 weeks to go in the semester, there are still so many more practices for them to experience, more tools for their "stress management" tool box. My hope for all of my students is to find practices that resonate with them and ones that they begin to integrate regulary into their daily life. Regularity is more important than duration. A few mindful breaths before class, a Yoga Nidra practice on the weekend, nadi shodhana before bed, short bursts of regular practice. This is truly when they will begin to experience the short and long to benefits of lower stress, more energy, increased positivity, better health, mental clarity, more happiness, etc.
Swami Satyananda says that we must learn to "Live with the stress!" Since stress is unavoidable part of life the only way to "life with it" is to learn to manage it. That is what yoga gives us; the tools to manage physical, mental and emotional stress.
Yoga may only be a 1 credit pass/fail course at CSU, but it could be the most important course they take during their time at CSU. Maybe not for their major, but for their life.