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Healthy Mondays: Bringing yoga, spirituality and relaxation

Kelley Purcell teaches a yoga class at SU that helps students exercise in a way that is relaxing for both mind and body.

Yoga is part of Kelley Purcell's life.

Purcell, 24, a graduate student at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, teaches science classes for elementary students through college level, but also works as a certified yoga instructor for Syracuse University's Healthy Mondays.

At 4 p.m., students gather for the one-hour Shakti yoga class in room 228B at the Schine Student Center. In this class, yogis focus on breathing properly and understanding the movements of their body.

Photo: Srimathi Sridhar

“Yoga has personally changed the way I walk, sit and stand because I’m very conscious of it now.”
- Kelly Purcell

In 2010, Purcell met a yoga instructor in Woodstock, N.Y., and studied with her for a year before attending graduate school. “Initially, you go through life with most of the natural ways your body forms a posture,” Purcell said. “Yoga has personally changed the way I walk, sit and stand.”

Purcell said she believed one of the fundamental aspects of yoga is its ability to focus on yourself and other people. And she was quick to debunk the stereotypes of a yoga instructor.

“You think of a very dancer body type of individual who can fold their body like a pretzel,” Purcell said. “They’re very athletic and can meditate for hours and hours. But that’s not true, you can start from the very beginning not knowing a thing about yoga or how your body moves.”

Visualization of yoga by gender

The 2008 "Yoga in America" study shows that 72.2 percent of those who practice yoga are women, compared to 27.8 percent men.

National campaign

Matthew MacDougall, a Lerner Fellow at the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at SU, helped establish Purcell’s yoga class after the center decided students and faculty would benefit from fitness classes.

MacDougall said Healthy Mondays is a “national campaign that holds the goal of eliminating chronic, preventable disease.”

The campaign focuses on physical activity, nutrition and emotional and mental well-being.

Why yoga?

Freshman advertising major Lauren Yobs attended Purcell’s yoga class this semester.

The 18-year-old began to practice yoga because of knee problems. Her doctor said yoga would be helpful in the healing process because of all the stretching.

“Now it just feels great,” Yobs said. “If I skip a week, I notice.”

If Yobs doesn’t do yoga, she begins developing muscle pains, doesn’t feel as loose and feels sick, as if she has a cold.

Like Purcell, Yobs said she has become more conscious of her body posture, or asana, as it is known in Sanskrit.

“Once you learn the forms and start focusing over engaging your muscles in those particular forms, you figure out how you’re supposed to feel,” Yobs said. “Someone came to visit me a couple of weeks ago and commented on how (much) straighter I was sitting.”

Purcell said yoga helped her work on attaining better posture outside the yoga studio.

“It’s like you’re in line at Starbucks and then all of a sudden you think, ‘Ah, what could I work on right now? I should try and stand a bit better,’” Purcell said. “And you try and tighten things up, pull your abdominals in, breathe in and out and suddenly it's not so uncomfortable to stand there. Your breath restores your patience and it just makes all these minute changes in your life.”

Purcell added that when she’s sitting in class, she’ll roll her shoulders up to her ears back and down, or take her fingers, interlace them and push her palms away from her.

“You’ll start to sit and stand differently, and then it won’t feel like so much work,” she said. “You walk away with a euphoric feeling.”

Junior nutrition major Ellen Bobich is another attendee of Purcell’s class. “For me, it’s as much (of) an exercise for mental health as it is physical health,” she said. “It’s relaxing instead of doing a hard workout.”

The 21-year-old said she practices yoga as meditation for its calming and quiet environment. “I feel like the deep breaths relax and de-stress you,” she said.

Yoga figures over the years

The 2008 "Yoga in America" study shows that 28.4 percent of Americans have practiced yoga for one year or less, 21.4 percent for one to two years, 25.6 percent for two to five years and 24.6 percent for more than five years.

More than physical

“There are strong ties to Hinduism and spirituality,” Purcell said of the practice. “You have all these different ties, but yoga is always up to the individual practitioner. You choose to explore or take it in one way.”

Purcell said the original idea of practicing yoga was to have the individual feel more spiritual. 

“That's where you get this ultimate realization of self,” Purcell said. “And you’re all one, so it’s just this ultra state of consciousness. A lot of people say that's the goal. But I went for the healing wisdom of my teacher and the fact that I did physically feel great after.”

Purcell mentioned different types of yoga that have emerged from the more traditional form of the exercise.

Purcell said yoga and Pilates are often combined, which can be as delicate or as vigorous as the individual makes it. “There’s definitely an industry surrounding (yoga),” Purcell said. “And hopefully this is something I do for a while.”

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