Between extracurricular activities and all-nighters in the Davidson, relaxation is practically a myth to the average college student, especially amidst midterms. It is in these moments of high pressure, however, when the mind most demands concentration and resilience to stress.
While many college students may turn to the aid of caffeine, poor eating habits, or even health-endangering study drugs, they often neglect two of the most accessible resources available to cope with stress: yoga and meditation. Although the two medicines for the soul pre-date written history, according to the American Yoga Association, they have recently gained an enormous cult following. This is, in part, a result of the many health benefits they yield, which include decreased levels of stress and anxiety.
Markedly in the past decade, institutes have released studies that detail the scientific breakdown of such benefits by name, listing every hormone and chemical in the crayon box. But what does that translate to? It translates to serotonin, dopamine, GABA—all those trigger words we come to learn mean everything fuzzy, comforting, and rewarding. As Stephen Cope, a therapist and director of the Institute for Extraordinary Living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, explains to Forbes, yoga taps into the sympathetic nervous system—that network called to action during the body’s “fight or flight” response to stress. But in the life of a college student, filled with never-ending chapter quizzes and sporadic lawn naps, the off-side of that stress switch can seem inaccesible. So this is where yoga comes in. It helps us out by lowering cortisol levels that fuel stress reactions, also known as fostering positivity.
Ari Jacknow, a yoga instructor at Isla Vista Yoga Collective, acknowledges that “[yoga] doesn’t necessarily make your life rainbows and butterflies stress-less, but it allows you to move through however you choose to live your life in a more mindful way.”
To provide more incentive to practice for all of those who haven’t been feeling as frisky lately, yoga activates those hormones in the brain associated with sexual arousal. Just try to keep your downward dog to yourself until you host your own private “yoga session.” Or bring the heat over to Sensual Ecstatic Dance Yoga Fitness held on Fridays from 4:30-6 p.m. by Isla Vista Yoga Collective on 777 Camino Pescadero, which is a more contemporary interpretation of yoga’s core principles.
According to the New York Times, the National Institute of Health has released scientific studies revealing the effects of yoga on prolonging life and slowing down the biological clock, specifically through targeting physical and mental stress, both of which erode the tips of DNA strands. Not only does this stress kill youthful cells, but it also puts the body at much higher risk for a myriad of problems ranging from headaches to arthritis to anxiety. So next time your head starts pounding, reach not for the Advil bottle but to the sky in “Warrior Two” position.
The biology major with lab today and a term paper due next week is rolling his or her eyes right now. “Happy Baby” pose does not exactly fit into the ten-minute transition period between classes.
Slipping into a state of concentration, however, can be as easy as the simple sit position, “Sukhasana,” in which the yogi sits cross-legged with hands on knees and spine straight. This base position helps to focus awareness on the breath and the body while strengthening the lower back and opening up the groin and hips. Simply take five to 10 deep breaths, raising arms over head on the inhale and lowering on the exhale.
If this move is a little too baby-bird-learning-to-fly for you, do not fret because both the Health & Wellness Center and Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) offer a variety of resources on campus tailored specifically to students in need of relaxation. Located in Building 599, CAPS offers students access to massage chairs as well as what has been called UCSB’s best-kept gem, the Alpha Wave Egg Chair—or what second-year Mental Health Peer Erin Windsor dubs, “the best nap you’ll ever have.” Although rumors of the multi-sensory system seem to buzz among Gauchos starting from freshman orientation, not many can offer more than gossip of the infamous chair.
Third-year computer science major Jason Worden recalls his egg chair experience as being “a lullaby of an experience that gave a great nap in the middle of a hectic day.” But if you’re seeking a more professional edge to relaxation, Student Health Services accepts booking appointments online or by phone for massages.
Of course, with the multitude of choices available, there is always the option of self-guided meditation. To clarify the mind, all one needs is a quiet spot free of distractions, commitment to a time frame, a positive mantra, and slow breath. For the most hyper-connected, iPhone to the hip meditation practitioners, there is even the option to “Buddhify,” as long as said phone is in airplane mode (Yep, there’s an app for that).
So find a quiet space, whether it be the meditation room provided in Embarcadero Hall 1110 (Tuesdays/Thursdays 1-1:30 p.m.), or just a shady nook of grass, and allow your mind to let go of the churning to-do-list for 10 minutes and live in the rhythm of your breath. Not only will your attention span thank you, but so will the relaxed afterglow of your lowered cortisol levels.