Breathing your way to relaxation

Students find their focus and inner peace in yoga


When Devin McGuey couldn’t resolve back pain with chiropractic care, cortisone injections, physical therapy, pain medications or menthol patches, she turned to yoga.

McGuey, a graduate psychology student, said when she doesn’t do Hatha Yoga, she notices an increase in her back pain.

UB Wellness and Education Services offers a Hatha Yoga class Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on the 10th floor of Goodyear Hall on South Campus. Hatha yoga uses postures and conscious breathing to increase mental awareness, strength, flexibility and relaxation.

“The practice of yoga postures has kept my body flexible and healthy,” said Ulrike MacDonald, the instructor of Gentle Hatha Yoga and research medicine technician. “The relaxation and meditation practices, which are another part of my yoga practice, have helped me become calmer and more patient with myself and the people around me.”

During class, students concentrate on stretching and enhancing major muscle groups and joints. At the end, students relax and meditate. The class focuses on helping students find inner peace and heal their mind and body.

Macdonald, whose been working with UB Wellness since 2008, started practicing yoga 11 years ago. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance and started teaching in the community more than five years.

Wanly Chen, a freshman undecided major, said attending Gentle Hatha Yoga allows her to simultaneously relax and exercise.

Doing yoga improves both physical and mental health, according to MacDonald.

“Relaxation practices and meditation also offers the practitioner a tool to calm down an often very restless and overactive mind,” MacDonald said. “If the mind is calm, one usually feels more at ease and less anxious.”

Michelle Dein, a graduate psychology student, said she enjoys the class because it energizes her, enhances her flexibility and gives her an opportunity to take a break from her busy routine.

Each session also helps some student improve resilience.

“Greater awareness of the body and its needs often brings with it beneficial changes such as making sure the body gets the right foods and enough rest to function optimally,” Macdonald said.

The class offers beginners a chance to gently exercise their whole body. Each pose “flows” from one to another uninterrupted and ends in peaceful relaxation and mediation for the mind.

“I offer the students a series of gentle stretches combined with balancing and strengthening poses that address the major joints and muscle groups of the body,” MacDonald said. “We also work with the breath as a tool to keep us in the present moment.”

At the end of class, the instructor turns off the lights and students practice deep, systematic relaxation along with a sitting meditation exercise. The instructor does not play any music during this part of the class so students can experience uninterrupted silence.

“The relaxation exercises are very important since they teach the students how to relax,” MacDonald said. “Meditation, especially, is a great tool to calm the mind.”

Meditation is Chen’s favorite part of class.

Although some students have trouble sleeping at home, they quickly fall asleep at the end of class, MacDonald said.

“I find times like that very valuable since so much of our lives are filled with ambient noise,” MacDonald said.

Many students who attend Hatha Yoga experience a sense of wellbeing, balance and strength.