Yoga on Campus a Welcome Retreat


Yoga instructors prepare for class by practicing their own poses and sun salutations.

By Sabine Poux, Contributing Writer

You know the yoga is relaxing when you are standing in eagle pose and have completely forgotten about the two papers, midterm and four homework assignments due Monday. That was me finding my zen on Sunday night in the Chateau Grand Lounge. I stood in a position I had previously considered to be contortional, wobbling only a little bit, listening to instructions from a fellow student and loving every minute of it. I wasn’t stressing about my academic classes or worrying what the other yogis around me were thinking; I was just practicing yoga, something I had never tried before.

As a college student, finding peace of mind is no small feat, which is what makes the Middlebury Yoga Club such a wonderful organization. The Yoga Club has been functioning as a de-stresser and exercise option for students for five years now, and its accessible nature and student-taught classes help it to achieve its goal as stated in the club’s mission statement, “…to provide yoga series for the Middlebury College community to offer the benefits of yoga’s reflective and balancing effects.”

The goals of the Yoga Club have remained consistent since the club’s humble beginnings in 2011. The idea for the club began in the town of Middlebury at the Otter Creek Yoga Studio, when students Cassy Charyn ’12 and Lilah Leopold ’12.5 approached instructor Russell Comstock and asked him to teach a class at the college. The students secured a space in the Hepburn lounge, but as more and more newcomers from different dorms joined the club, it was apparent the small space would no longer do. The yoga bug was catching at Midd, and it was catching fast.

After two or three semesters at Hepburn, the effort was underway to create an official Yoga Club. Comstock began teaching classes at the CFA, and classes were open to students from all dorms. Comstock saw much enthusiasm among the kids in the club, who he says were looking for a way to “help balance some of the pressure and various demands of college life.”

Five years later Comstock still teaches yoga at Midd and offers two classes a week to accommodate the large number of students who are part of the Yoga Club, ranging from 60 to 100 students per class. Eight Middlebury students teach the remaining nine weekly classes. Chelsea Colby ’17.5 is a certified yoga instructor who became involved with the club two years ago when she needed teaching hours for her yoga training certification. Now Colby is the club treasurer and teaches two classes a week. Her goals for the club include expanding on its sense of community and introducing possibilities such as a yoga rave, collaborations with the mountain club and added morning classes to work into students’ busy schedules.

“We’re trying to see how we can make it more of a community,” she said. “There is such a focus on individual practice and your own mat and your own practice and your own hour.”   

The yoga club has seen immense success, which is in part due to its accessibility. Classes are free and students are allowed to go to any classes they want, depending on which best fit into their days. There are 11 classes to choose from and a range of options each day of the week, and each class welcomes yogis of all levels. Breaking the rigidity of a typical club schedule gives Yoga Club members more control over their own yoga practices, and allows them to choose whichever classes work best for them.

Adeline Cleveland, an employee at the Snow Bowl, and one of the original members of the Yoga Club, pointed out the need for this availability and method of escaping academic pressures. “Middlebury College is an amazing institution and a very overwhelming environment,” she said. “We recognized the need to get students out of their heads and into their bodies and wanted to provide free classes for anyone and everyone interested, including faculty!”

The availability is also implicit in the club’s constitution, which reads as one of its purposes: “To offer classes accessible to those who want to try yoga for the first time, for those who want to practice weekly, or for those who would like to drop in on a particularly stressful week.” So, whether you have been practicing for years or have never even stepped foot on a yoga mat, the Yoga Club is a viable involvement opportunity for you.

The tolerance for yoga newcomers was evident in the Restorative Yoga class I attended, which began with easier practices like stretching and slowly increased in difficulty to a vinyasa flow sequence. Throughout the class Colby was encouraging and accommodating, offering up alternatives to poses for those who had more experience but explaining in detail the poses for those – like myself – who had none. By the end of the hour I was extremely relaxed and felt strong and in control of my own body.

According to Comstock, “one big benefit [of yoga] is gaining a deeper sense of learning about your own energy and how to manage that energy, and how to feel like you have some sort of internal guidance as a student because you have so many external pressures.”

In this way the yoga classes offer a diversion from the anxiety and intensity of school, and allow students to take care of their bodies. This effect of the practice is not lost on the Middlebury community, which has enthusiastically embraced the club.

The Yoga Club is still growing, owing much to the passion that students bring to the table. The club also has evolved with the changing goals of the school.

“In the past year or so with [President of the College Laurie L. Patton] coming onto campus, there’s been a lot more talk about mindfulness on campus,” said Colby, “and so it’s definitely grown, even since my time starting here.”

However the club is still very much connected to its roots. The mission of the original founders of the Club is very much in sync with that of the Club leaders now.

And ask any of the hundreds of kids who attend the classes weekly – I am sure they would agree.

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