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The Scarlet & Black

A Novice Yogi’s Report from Faulconer

By Linnea Hurst

I arrive to my first yoga class five minutes late, entering Faulconer sweating and breathing loudly. Having just woken up from a nap, which included a nightmare about missing a paper deadline, I question if I can even afford to take thirty minutes out of my busy Monday. What is the point of yoga class anyway, I wonder. I stand awkwardly in the back of the room as around fifteen people lying on mats with their hips in the air. Before I can even ask if I am allowed to take a mat, Monica St. Angelo, the instructor, calmly makes eye contact with me and nods. My experience as a yogi has begun. I awkwardly position myself on the yoga mat. Is this position supposed to feel comfortable? I feel like a twisted pretzel and it takes all my concentration not to collapse on the floor. St. Angelo encourages us to check in with ourselves, “be honest with yourself, if you feel stressed that is okay! Focus on your breathing, and let it go.”

Connie Lee

St. Angelo leads us through poses such as the classic downward facing dog, warrior, extended side angle and a variation of the pigeon pose. Soon, I found balancing with one leg in the air to be easier than it initially seemed. The poses became more natural, and my body felt like it was being stretched in all those constantly tense places. Most surprisingly, I began to feel profoundly relaxed. St. Angelo’s voice now a soothing lullaby that softly reminded me to, “activate my legs,” or “engage my inner belly.” Once my breathing became natural and steady my body would move in tandem, transitioning poses seamlessly. I am used to associating physical activity with ragged, uneven breathing. Yet now I was reaching this union of breath and movement St. Angelo kept mentioning, which seemed to a beginner to me to be one of the most important lessons of yoga. I reminded myself to attend this session every Thursday; how did I get through the week without this?

With this being said, during this first yoga class I still had a lot to learn. Surprisingly, the hardest portion of the class for me was not reaching around my leg to grab my foot or any other physical pose, but the portion where all we had to do was lie still. At the end of the lesson St. Angelo focused the attention of the class away from our bodies. “Remember that our greatest resistance is often our minds not our bodies,” St. Angelo said. She instructed us to lie down in the most comfortable position, close our eyes, and let our mind be still. “Let go of expectations, negative criticisms and experience each moment without judgment,” St. Angelo said. The room became completely silent, and I immediately opened one eye. What brand are those yoga pants on the girl in front of me? I really liked those. Psych reading, history project proposal, I begin to list my homework in my head. St. Angelo’s voice interrupts my frantic inner dialogue, gently letting everyone know our time was up. I realize I never even tried to quiet my brain, or focus on my breathing. Lying completely still, it was too tempting to let my brain spin on and on like a hamster wheel. As we pack up our yoga mats St. Angelo offers us one more morsel of wisdom, “Remember to offer yourself compassion. Namaste.” I leave Faulconer I feel relaxed and replenished. Yet I know I still have more to learn. I have now mastered the physical, next comes the mind.


Thursday November 8th, Faulconer Gallery, 12:15pm:


Today I make sure to arrive to class on time, consciously telling myself to expel any thoughts connected to the hectic daily grind. St. Angelo tells us to focus on our spines and lengthen them as much as possible. We twist our upper torsos while keeping our lower torso stationary, and I realize that with just one class under my belt I feel much more confident with my strength and balance. I let St. Angelo’s instructions, my breathing, and the physical sensations of my spine and muscles stretching be the only things I focus on. As the lesson comes to a close St. Angelo once again instructs us to lie still and focus on our quieting our minds. I close my eyes and prepare myself to let go of any worries or stray thoughts. Surprisingly, I do not even find myself distracted by the cool yoga pants of the girl in front of me, or deadlines later in the day. I meditate on the inhalation and expulsion of breath. If my mind could be visualized it would be a meadow in spring with a single oak tree, with only the buzzing of cicadas interrupting the peaceful silence. I forget where I am, what my obligations are for

the day, and simply exist. As the class comes to a close and I walk out of Faulconer I feel like I have just woken up from the most restful and relaxing nap. My body feels attended to and so does my mind, centered and ready to take on the day.

St. Angelo teaches a type of yoga inspired by the sage Patanjali. Almost none of his teachings had to do with the physical.

“The main thing I take away from these is to transcend the body, and the idea that you’re trying to calm the fluctuations of the mind,” St. Angelo said during an interview. Her teaching style depicts this emphasis on calming the

mind. “All the physical poses we do are great for strength and balance, but their main purpose is to focus people on their breathing, and silencing their mind,” St. Angelo said. She refers to the hectic mind state I experienced early in my yogi as “monkey mind.” St. Angelo recognizes that most Grinnellians experience “monkey mind.”

She explains that Grinnell campus is very much a place centered on the mind. We often are overwhelmed by not only intellectual pursuits but interpersonal relationships and the worries that come along with those,” St. Angelo said. She recognizes that when most Grinnellians do not feel mentally or physically well, “they simply down ten cups of coffee and soldier on.” She encourages students to instead take a moment to become aware of their physical bodies, something we often forget about, and by doing so quiet our minds as well. The best way to do so is to attend one of the many yoga classes offered on campus. St. Angelo encourages students to endure the first few awkward moments.

Yet even without attending yoga classes, there is hope for Grinnellian’s suffering from “Monkey Mind”. In the spirit of Patanjili’s teachings, St. Angelo urges every Grinnellian to become aware of their bodies and taking care of them which then leads to quieting of the mind. She recommends breathing in, counting to five, and then breathing out. This simple exercise will help students get out of their head for a little bit, and reach their own tranquil spring meadow. “Sitting and focusing on your breath and nothing else can get you out of your head for a little bit,” St. Angelo said.

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