Sherrill Center offers yoga as anti-stress tool

By Michael O’Hearn – [email protected] – Staff Writer | Feb. 4, 2015 |
Deep breathing exercises, which are key to understanding yoga and meditation, can increase the flow of oxygen exchange and will therefore lower blood pressure and heart rate, according to a recent Harvard Medical School study.
Aleen Dailey, assistant director of fitness and facilities at UNC Asheville, outlined the benefits of yoga and meditation for students coming into the new semester. Dailey has practiced yoga for 10 years and has been the assistant director of fitness at UNCA for three, training students to eventually teach their own yoga and meditation classes in the Sherrill Center. Dailey has also traveled internationally, going to places like Costa Rica to participate in yoga workshops.
“There a lot of proven benefits in scientific literature about yoga and meditation,” Dailey said. “As you can imagine, some of these benefits include lowering your blood pressure, lowering your resting heart rate and stress reduction. In some studies, some individuals were even able to go off their blood pressure medications following some yoga practices.”
The Harvard study also determined that doing these exercises can also combat the “fight or flight” response the human body triggers when faced with adversity and stressful situations
“I think a lot of it is the chemical makeup in your body and literally affecting stress hormones. These hormones can, in turn, trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response,” Dailey said. “Students who procrastinate on their assignments, for example, feel their heart rate rising and their blood pressure increasing but it is all happening while they are sitting at their desks studying. The more you activate that stress response, the easier your body goes back to it. Yoga helps counter that.”
Stephen Holsenbeck is a yoga and meditation instructor. He explained that one benefit of yoga is getting students to use muscles they do not normally use while attending classes and doing homework.
“Typically, in our daily lives, we use a small amount of muscles, whether it be sitting at a computer, sitting in a chair, lying down or walking,” Holsenbeck said. “Yoga poses move into flexibility and create joint openness while going into novel patterns that you would not typically go into during the day.”
Holsenbeck also touched on the benefits of meditation and how it relates to students who are feeling stressed due to homework or social lives. Meditation, he said, allows students to mentally focus on something other than the task at hand.
“Meditation is useful when students want to tune in on something other than information or social interaction by focusing on just their breathing,” Holsenbeck explained. “The breath is an ongoing process from the time we are born to the time we die, and it’s a continuous, ever-changing rhythm like inertia. By focusing on this part of our experience, we can relax our minds out of wanting to grasp for the information in front of us.”
Michael Moss is a junior health and wellness promotion student. Practicing meditation and yoga, Moss said, is important if students wants to learn about themselves and how to face the stresses of daily student life.
“Joining the yoga group here at school has become something that is both communal and spiritual,” Moss said. “Meditation, especially, has been something that has vibed with me. I feel that both of these things can reduce stress while also increasing the ability to deal with life.”
One of the perceived setbacks, according to Dailey, is that yoga classes are expensive. Fortunately for students both at UNCA and in the community, there are free classes sponsored by UNCA and donation-based studios in Asheville.
“Historically, in the U.S., yoga has been maybe for the more privileged and the higher socioeconomic statuses,” Dailey said. “If you go to a studio in the community, depending on where you are, you may be paying $15 just for a single class and some places, like down in Florida or up in New York City, even more. What’s great about Asheville is that we have donation studios that are entirely based on donation where you can give zero dollars, five or whatever you feel you can. Here at UNCA, the classes are entirely free.”
Practicing yoga and meditation at UNCA means there are a variety of free classes for students, ranging from beginner to intermediate, to more advanced transformative power yoga, taught by student instructor Thea Butler. According to Butler, who is also an international studies student,  there is a sense of calming and tranquility after each class. Dailey calls this feeling a “yoga high,” where one feels like they are on top of the world after a session. Butler said yoga is for everyone.
“Yoga can help students get a feel for their minds and bodies while also aligning their chakras,” Butler said. “If students did yoga with their focus fully devoted to their breathing and postures, it can change their whole outlook.”
One of Butler’s students, Nicholas Pope, is a sophomore who is new to yoga and has only been to a few classes this semester. According to Pope, yoga has been a way to get involved at school while also getting in shape and alleviating the tensions of the day.
“Going to these classes has been worth it, at least in my opinion,” Pope said. “Based on what I have read, yoga has helped people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. I’ve even begun to practice it in my dorm sometimes and plan to come back continuously.”
The Asheville Yoga Center, located behind the Bojangle’s on Merrimon Avenue is open to the community for classes and has a donation studio nearby. Heidi Vaught is an instructor at the Asheville Yoga Center donation studio and has been teaching for 10 years.
Vaught primarily teaches alignment-based yoga, but she has classes open to all levels from beginners to intermediate. Meditation is a key component of most of her classes, as it teaches students to be aware of their poses while practicing yoga.
“There are a few different types of meditation that I incorporate into my teaching,” Vaught said. “Practicing the asana meditation especially helps students be mindful and aware of where their body is as they move from pose to pose.”
According to Vaught, she usually sees anywhere from seven to 15 students in any of her classes. Students, typically ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s attend Vaught’s classes.
“It has become more common that students between the ages of 30 and 65 attend classes here,” Vaught said. “The classes are also financially accessible and open to anyone because the studio asks that students pay only what they can when they attend.”
Vaught began practicing yoga in college and began to notice immediately that it helped to manage stress from things like midterms and sleeplessness. When she took a break from yoga, she said she eventually noticed the benefits of having a steady yoga routine.
“It was then, when yoga was missing from my life, that I noticed how stiff and sometimes painful my body was without yoga especially when I had discomfort with sitting for prolonged periods,” Vaught said. “I do believe that having a steady yoga practice reminds me to do the things I love and am passionate about.”