Stressed-Out Students Turn to Yoga

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The Spectrum

With the final week of classes underway, exams approaching, and holidays right around the corner, college students are facing an escalating amount of stress. A great stress reliever many students turn to is yoga.

"I started getting into yoga at a time when work and school were really stressing me out," said Danielle Jakubowski, a senior history major. "I noticed I was getting high-strung and short-tempered. Immediately after starting yoga, I noticed a difference in my nerves and felt a lot calmer."

There are a variety of styles of yoga practiced throughout the world, many of which can be found in Western New York. A familiar form is traditional Hatha yoga, available to students through courses in the athletics department. Leanne Oldenbrook, a graduate of UB and founder of Crescent Moon yoga, teaches Hatha yoga at the UB Newman Center.

After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, Oldenbrook found yoga to be very helpful in her pain management. She completed the 200-hour Yoga Alliance certification program at Seven Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Ariz. and has been teaching Hatha yoga since 2003.

"When you practice mindfully, with full attention on what you're doing, you connect every movement to breath," Oldenbrook said. "The inhale brings energy, and the exhale releases it. It's important to listen to the spaces between breaths to calm the body and quiet the mind. I wish I could make [yoga] mandatory."

Bikram yoga, founded by Bikram Choudhury in 1974, consists of a 26-posture sequence adapted from traditional Hatha yoga. This challenging workout takes place in a 105-degree room with 40 percent humidity.

"Bikram yoga is really intense. The first time I went I thought I was going to die," said Sarah Brewer, a senior international studies major who tries to attend Bikram yoga classes five to six times per week. "Nothing else matters in that moment. The momentum stays with me after class."

Another unique form of yoga is warm water yoga, which generally takes place in a 90-degree heated pool that is shallow enough to stand in. After doing research on different water yoga methods, Oldenbrook developed a water yoga class that she teaches at the Kenneth Kurtz Physical Therapy pool in Clarence.

"In water yoga, you use the wall of the pool and hang on the edge of the wall. You're somewhat limited, but many of the postures you can do standing can be done in the water," Oldenbrook said. "The warmth of the water is good for muscles, and the water supports you so you can do postures that are more difficult on land."

For those looking for a change of scenery, Oldenbrook also teaches morning classes at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery every Saturday. Each week, students are introduced to new artwork by a gallery docent, and they practice yoga in the space of the gallery.

There is also a meditative presence at UB being spearheaded by the Meditation Club, which is in the process of being recognized as an official club by the Student Association. It is currently part of the Wellness Center's stress management program. Club members begin their meetings with 15 minutes of tai chi or yoga, followed by meditation to relieve stress.

"Meditation counters the stress response by encouraging deep breathing, which slows down your heart rate and relaxes the whole body," said Cyndney Schwartz, president of UB Meditation. "Most importantly, meditation encourages mindfulness, or the ability to live in the moment, meaning rather than worrying [or] fantasizing about the future or dwelling on the past, one focuses on the now."

There are many yoga studios to choose from in Western New York. More information about Oldenbrook's Hatha yoga, water yoga, and yoga at Albright-Knox Art Gallery can be found at cmyoga.com.

"Yoga gives you the ability to let your thoughts settle for a while," Oldenbrook said. "How many times do we think about the past and worry about the future? How often do we worry about right now? Yoga helps get you in the space where you can be present in your life."

E-mail: features@ubspectrum.com