How Yoga Can Help You Survive Orientation Week

Don’t roll your eyes. I know, I, too, was in the camp that yoga is for white moms and girls who are a little too into their service trips to Thailand—but then I got hit with college orientation week. It’s hard to overstate how much of an information overload that first week of school is, from the infinite number of desks and chairs arranged in circles in classrooms you got lost trying to find, sweaty, confused students crammed in auditoriums for “mixers,” and the many, many meal plan dollars spent. I know that during my first week I felt like there were a million things buzzing inside my head. I racked up piles of club opportunity pamphlets, zoned out at dorm meetings, and spent a lot of nights eating alone and then coming back to my room feeling drained.

But it was through meeting someone on my floor that I found a way to quiet down and get out of the funk: a donation based yoga studio in New York called Yoga to the People. One of the things that had made me scoff at getting into yoga and meditation was the price tag, and the idea that there were spaces for the practice that are donation based motivated me to get in there and get my vinyasa on. Going to yoga class in the morning and at night gave me a sense of routine in this time of intense change, and gave me an opportunity to just spend an hour or two of my day with my own mind. So much of that first week of college asks you to consider yourself part of a community, and what people don’t tell you is that that can be incredibly exhausting. Just lying down with my forehead on my mat, eyes closed and mouth silent, was a great way to not be looking at any whiteboard or stating my name, major, and a fun fact about me.

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Many young college women's worries surround their bodies, especially the dreaded “freshman fifteen,” and yoga provides a way to get to know the body better and make peace with where you’re at. As first-week freshmen, our bodies are in a transitional time, as are our minds. One of the things that drew me to start practicing yoga during orientation was the desire to get physically stronger and to be able to feel more comfortable in my own body. Just as the silent meditation of child’s pose gives you a chance to give yourself some well-deserved rest, the burning feeling in your thighs during chair pose makes that rest feel worth it. Strengthening your body during a time when your lifestyle is changing helps you build up both mental resolve and physical muscle to handle the challenges ahead.

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In hindsight, it makes total sense that yoga can help you center yourself and take control of an overwhelming time in your life. Natalie Vie, yoga teacher or yogi and Olympic athlete, described the practice as having “adaptogenic effects.” In other words, Vie said, the bodily control and mental meditation you practice during yoga can increase the blood flow to the brain and the elasticity of your organs, as well as boosting immunity. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years as a way of merging your body and your mind, and college freshmen are arguably the group with the most confused bodies and scattered minds. Plus, yoga is non-judgmental. When I’m at class, I focus on myself completely, not on the way others are doing. If I need to stay in child’s pose, I stay in child’s pose. I’m still reaping the benefits of the practice by choosing to take care of myself.

One thing I want to emphasize is that yoga is not as inaccessible as a lot of young women think it is. You can easily find tutorials on how to do power vinyasa flows online, and many schools even offer free classes. Something yogis often mention in class is that choosing to do yoga during your day is making a choice for your own health that often involves putting in a little more effort—making your way to the studio, carrying your mat, or simply choosing to engage with your body rather than sit through another episode of Netflix, which might take less effort. Starting the practice of yoga gave me a clearer sense of routine and made me put more effort into my schedule, a skill that will likely carry over to my college experience.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, give yoga a try. It will not solve all your problems, but it will at least give you something to do and routinely practicing will help your body and your mind adapt. Natalie Vie said: “Anyone starting college and adapting to a new situation would benefit from the practice of yoga.”