Iyengar Yoga teaches mindfulness, relaxation techniques

By Carolina Garibay

College is hard. Anyone who is a college student or who has been a college student knows that. And anyone who’s been a college student during the COVID-19 pandemic knows how much harder college has been this year. The pandemic has affected everyone in different ways, but young adults have been hit particularly hard. Throughout the pandemic, a larger number than average (56%) of young adults (ages 18-24) in the U.S. reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, according to a brief by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

As finals week quickly approaches, so do higher levels of stress for college students. Since high levels of stress are associated with anxiety and depression, thinking about healthy ways to cope with stress during this time could be beneficial for many students.

Something that might be effective in regulating stress for students is yoga. Several studies show that yoga is associated with lower cortisol (a stress hormone) levels, improvements in stress and reduction in perceived levels of anxiety.

Lois Steinberg is a Certified Iyengar Yoga instructor and owner of Iyengar Yoga Champaign-Urbana, and she has over 40 years of experience studying, practicing and teaching yoga. In 1999, B.K.S. Iyengar himself, the founder of Iyengar Yoga, granted Steinberg permission to use his name for Iyengar Yoga Champaign-Urbana. Iyengar Yoga focuses on detail and careful attention to alignment in yoga postures and poses and may be able to help students cope with high levels of stress, which can manifest physically in many ways.

“You hold your body hard, you contract your diaphragm, which is the muscle involved in breathing, and you start having irregular breathing,” Steinberg said.

Research shows people spend about 47% of their day thinking about the past or the future rather than what’s happening in the present moment. Steinberg said yoga can correct this by teaching practitioners how to be in the moment instead of ruminating and worrying about the past or present.

“When somebody wants to ask me, ‘How do you handle stress?’ my answer is by being present because if you’re not thinking of the future or worrying about what’s going to happen, worrying about the past, that’s what’s creating a stress response – a flight or fight response,” Steinberg said. “So, it teaches you to rewire your thinking habits to be present. With that daily practice, for sure you’re present, and that’s what gives you that relaxation response.”

Steinberg said that she practiced yoga in college every day and that whenever she had an exam, she would do a handstand for energy and increased blood circulation to her brain.

“Those inverted poses balance all the systems of your body, so when I would do an exam, I’d stand on my hands and get ready because you have to sort of be relaxed and calm,” Steinberg said.

But if you’re like the average college student, you most likely don’t know how to do a handstand. Luckily, yoga teachers at Iyengar Yoga C-U can teach you how to do a handstand, as well as several other poses and breathing techniques, said Dr. Steinberg.

For college students, Steinberg recommends the Iyengar Ignite class, which is a beginner’s Iyengar Yoga class that is active, challenging and well-paced.

“I hope people come to love yoga in that class, and a lot of it is just because of that movement. You get quiet in that movement, and then as you progress you learn to hold the poses longer, and the movement is more internal inside,” said Dr. Steinberg.

Iyengar Yoga C-U even offers special healing classes for certain parts of the body, such as the lower back and neck and shoulders. There is also a Women’s Essentials class that teaches yoga practice for healthy monthly cycles, including menstrual cramp relief, and a Men’s Essentials class that teaches maintaining fitness and improving flexibility, especially in the hips and hamstrings.

Though some might say that yoga helps them with stress management, Steinberg says that “stress management” is an oxymoron.

“You can’t manage your stress. You can’t manage it. It’s going to come all the time,” she said. “But if you’re present, you’re going to be in that relaxation response when that stress is there.”

Right now, all classes at Iyengar Yoga C-U are online, and those interested can visit yoga-cu.com for class schedules or visit Steinberg’s website, loissteinberg.com.