College can be a very stressful time. As a senior, I have found myself bogged down with both academic and social stress and anxiety. With graduation looming and absolutely no clue where I will be come May, and my friend group falling apart around me, the stress and anxiety are at their worst. Sometimes I feel silly for letting these things keep me down, but I'm not alone. According to Emory University, over 1,000 suicides happen on college campuses every year. In addition, 17 percent of college students have admitted to self-harming in some way.
I knew that neither of these were valid options to lower my stress levels, but I also knew I needed to do something. My best friend, feeling much the same way, suggested that we take up yoga. I had done a minimal amount of yoga in the past and it was fun, but I didn't really know much about it. That week we went to the gym on campus and signed up for a once-a-week class for $15.
I have now been to four yoga classes. Besides being something fun to do with my friend, it has many benefits. After the first couple classes, I felt great, but I wanted to know exactly what kind of benefits there were, so I looked them up. I googled away and what I found, combined with how I felt during and after the classes, has brought me to this conclusion: college students need yoga.
Now, I know that everyone is different and I usually avoid making generalizations like this, but the evidence is just too much to ignore this time. Here is a list of the benefits I think are the most helpful for college students.
Yoga calms anxiety
The first and most basic step of yoga is focusing on your breathing. We take slow, deep breaths in the nose and back out the nose. Slowing our breathing helps us to relax and focus on the present. Whenever I find myself overcome by feelings of stress or anxiety, I slow my breathing and focus on what's going on, much like I do when doing yoga.
Yoga improves your posture and strengthens your spine
Between stress, sitting in a desk all day long, lugging around hundreds of dollars worth of textbooks and sleeping in dorm beds, college students are not exactly known for great posture and healthy spines. Yoga has a lot of moves that help stretch out your spine and teach good posture.
Yoga lowers blood pressure
Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a dangerous condition. Because of our diets and stress levels, college students are at risk for hypertension. There have been studies that have proven that yoga can lower blood pressure, which would be very helpful for stressed students.
Yoga makes you happier
Continual yoga practice has been known to improve depression and increase serotonin levels.
Yoga improves focus
Throughout a practice you are forced to focus, not only on your breathing, but on the position of your body and your surroundings. This focus can improve memory over time. Continual yoga practice could help you when studying for those exams.
Yoga helps you sleep
As I already stated, yoga and deep breathing help you to relax. It relaxes your whole system, making it easier for you to fall into a deep sleep. Even if you don't have time to take a class every week, a few yoga poses before bed could help you wake up for that 8 a.m. you knew you shouldn't have taken.
Yoga boosts your immune system
This one is mostly due to the meditation that goes along with most yoga practices. The meditation stimulates certain parts of your brain, giving your immune system exactly what it needs to function properly. With the stress and close proximity to others that comes on a college campus, anything that boosts immune systems is helpful for students.
Yoga can boost self-esteem
This is a big one for college students. We're at a time in our lives when we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Low self-esteem is a big issue for students. You may not feel a change overnight, but the continual meditation and reflection in practicing yoga can help you learn and value your true worth.
Yoga encourages self-care
By choosing to practice yoga, you are taking an active step in bettering yourself. Whether you wanted to ease back pain, reduce stress or just do something that will make you feel good, you are making a decision to be a better you. By doing this, you are now more likely to take other steps in helping yourself and improving your life.
Yoga is just one step to feeling better and relieving stress, and it's not instant. It is, however, an easy step to take. If you don't know where to take a class, or don't want to start in front of other people, you can always look up a video online and do a quick practice before bed, or right after you wake up. Even without any health benefits, I always leave feeling refreshed and accomplished. Those feelings alone can really boost your mood and motivation. Everyone could benefit from a yoga practice every now and then, but I think it would be especially beneficial for my fellow stressed out college students.