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ISSUE 115 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/8/2002

Stretching the soul

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer


Friday, March 8, 2002

In a culture that is consistently setting its sights upon the future, while attempting to reconcile the past, some members of the St. Olaf community are learning the value of being able to "be here now." These very words serve as an invocation to Bob Bruce's yoga class. "I invite you to take care of your body," he tells the class, as the students clear their mind of external influences, and prepare themselves for the exercises to follow. "Close your eyes. Settle in. This is the moment you have been given. Be here now." The class is part of the college's recreational program, and meets Monday nights from 8:00-9:30 and Friday afternoons from 12:00-1:00, in Dittman Center, Dance Studio 2. There is no fee, and there is no attendance requirement. The class typically attracts 20-35 each session, and consists of students, staff, and other members of the Northfield community. Allison Hales '02 praised the informality and accessibility of the class. "One thing I've noticed about the class is that there are lots of different body types represented, which speaks to the fact that this is an activity that is open to everyone," Hales commented. "You don't have to compare yourself to others. People have different flexibilities and different goals in coming here, and that's okay. You're free to do your own thing." In addition to the diverse physical conditions and needs of the members of the class, students bring a variety of spiritual backgrounds. While yoga finds its roots in India, primarily in the Hindu tradition, the practice is certainly not exclusive to Hinduism alone. In Kripala yoga, a branch of Hatha yoga, which is what Bruce teaches, focus is on body awareness, meditation, and service. Kripala yoga stresses practice of compassion, nonviolence, and moderation in all aspects of life-ideals that transcend cultural or religious boundaries. Bruce dismissed the notion that yoga necessarily compromises religious conviction. "This is not religion," he assured. "Yoga is one path to a universal light. It will be meaningful for some and not so meaningful for others." Bruce has studied yoga for five years, and became certified to teach Kripala yoga in the summer of 2001. He is an instructor at the Heartworks Yoga Studio in downtown Northfield. Reflecting on the practice of yoga, he stated, "I just find that for myself, this is an extraordinarily healthy way to be." Most students of the class would agree. Jan Pence, wife of Provost and Dean of the College Jim Pence, expressed that the class gave her a "wonderful sense of well-being." Northfield resident Sue Weaver appreciates the wholesome approach to the class. "It's nurturing for the mind, body and spirit," she stated. "It's an hour and a half that I can set aside for myself," said Casey Landau '04. "It's completely different from anything I do. It allows me to just be here, in the moment." "It's very relaxing," Rakel Evanson '02 said. "It makes me sleepy, and it's okay to fall asleep." "Sometimes I'm so relaxed, I fart," she humorously added, demonstrating the informal nature of the class. The 90-minute session begins with breathing exercises, which, according to Bruce, serve to center the individual. "You want your mind to be alert, but not engaged," he said. The breathing exercises also encourage balance and experience of sensation. In one exercise, students inhaled and exhaled, alternately plugging each nostril, in order to circulate air to both hemispheres of the brain. The breathing exercises are then followed by a series of stretches or poses, called asadas. Poses perfomed by this class included the Triple Diamond Goddess position, the Ragdoll position, and the Sun Salutation. Some are mere stretches, while others are more complicated feats of balance and flexibility. But Bruce stresses that there is no pressure to push beyond one's physical limits in the execution of the various poses. "Yoga is not about perfection. Yoga is not about comparison. And yoga certainly is not about pain," he stated. The class finishes up with about 10 minutes of meditation, where Bruce invites a variety of practices. "Know that there is no one way to do meditation," he expressed. "What you are doing right now is just right for you." Evanson, Hales, and Laura Struve '02 applauded their Bruce's instruction. "He's so wise," they said. "Gently correcting, and very helpful." Landau encouraged students who may be interested in the class to come. "Just try it out. It's not scary or weird. Everyone I know that's tried it has agreed." Bruce ends the class by commissioning the students to "Go and be carriers of peace." For the students, living in a world that often disregards this notion, the message is well received.





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