You might think of yoga as just a fad for Hollywood’s elite, or as something suited best for granola-munching, non-armpit-shaving hippies. In reality, it can improve any Collegiette’s physical and mental health. Yoga is less strenuous on your joints than running, you can do it just about anywhere (try it outside to get your daily dose of sunshine) and it seriously improves your mood.
Yoga can even help you perform better in class: a study recently done at the University of Kentucky had college students either meditate, take a nap or watch TV before taking a test on psychomotor vigilance (which basically tests for how quickly your synapses relay information to your brain). Those who meditated did 10% better on this task than those who napped or watched TV. Ten percent may not seem like a lot, but if you want to be on your A-game for an important exam, try introspection and deep breathing. Your synapses will thank you.
If you have trouble getting motivated to exercise, USC offers yoga classes each semester for beginners that include learning basic postures, analyzing eating habits and practicing meditation to de-stress your life. If you’re a morning person, there are classes during Fall 2012 at 9, 10 and 11 am. If, like me, you prefer to exercise in the afternoon, there is a class offered at 2 pm. To get you in the groove before next semester, check out some of the best poses to relieve stress. Take a 15-minute break and a deep breath; it’s time to get flexible!
1. Child’s Pose, Balasana
A classic for relieving tension, child’s pose is great for those of us who have back pain. According to YogaJournal.com, Balasana can be done for 30 seconds to a few minutes. Beginning on your hands and knees, slowly sink back to rest your booty on your heels and your head on your mat (or on the floor, if you don’t have a mat). You can either stretch your hands forward to loosen tension in your shoulders, or bring your arms back so that your forearms are touching your calves. Try to clear your mind, or focus on a mantra: one of my favorites is “I will do my best today.” It sounds simple, but a positive mantra can be powerful.
2. Cat Pose, Marjaryasana
Marjaryasana is one of my favorite poses for relieving cramps and backaches (especially if followed by Cow Pose, see #3). Begin in “tabletop” position, on hands and knees with your shoulders in line with your wrists (perpendicular to the floor) and your knees in line with your hips. Bring the middle of your back up to the ceiling, filling up the spaces between your shoulder blades. Tighten your core and exhale. It feels good to release your head, but try not to force your chin to your chest, as this could cause too much strain to your neck and back.
3. Cow Pose, Bitilasana
After Marjaryasana, inhale and raise your head, letting your belly fall to the floor. Gaze ahead and arch your back. Your arms should still be straight and in line with your shoulders and your knees in line with your hipbones. Alternating the Cat and Cow poses on each breath feels great -- breathe deeply and allow yourself to relax.
4. Dolphin Pose
To work your core a little more, start in tabletop, then come down onto your elbows, with your hands palm-down on the floor. Make sure your fingers are spread wide with your middle finger pointed straight ahead. Keeping your spine straight, tuck your toes under and straighten your legs. Hold for 30 seconds. If you want to work your core even more, raise one leg straight back, hold for two breaths and then switch.
5. Standing Forward Bend, Uttanasana
For Uttanasana, begin standing straight up. Feel length in your spine. Gradually bend down at the hips, bringing your nose closer to your knees. As you bend, exhale. This is a great stretch for the hamstrings, calves, and hips and it releases tension in your neck if you let your head hang down.
6. Cobra Pose, Bhujangasana
Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders, palms down on the floor. Make sure your elbows are touching the side of your body. Press your legs firmly into the floor as you raise your chest toward the sky, lifting your gaze as you inhale. Take several deep breaths as you feel your abs stretch. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute, lowering your chest back to the ground on an exhale.
7. Corpse Pose, Savasana
No, really, it’s actually called Corpse Pose. Lying down on your back, let your toes flop out to the sides. Relax your body and feel the earth supporting it. Breathe deeply. Stay in this pose for five minutes -- believe me, it’s worth the time. When you rise from Savasana, you’ll feel energized and clear-minded, ready to tackle the next round of studying or finish up the final pages of a term paper.
Mary Bryce Hargis is a sophomore at the University of Southern California majoring in Cognitive Science. After graduation, she wants to combine her two passions, psychology and law, into one high-powered career as a Trial Consultant. She's a transfer student from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., which she decided was entirely too cold for her. She enjoys taking advantage of the balmy Los Angeles weather with trips to Venice Beach, Topanga Canyon, and the Griffith Observatory. Born and raised in North Carolina, Mary Bryce is a southern girl at heart, but she has been majorly influenced by the Best Coast. In her free time, she likes to eat chocolate, watch True Blood, tweet, and go to USC Football games.