Feeling like a student zombie? Take a breather, try some yoga

By Christie Franke

Summer ends amid the usual chorus of moans and groans over the return of the semester.

For most of us, the beginning of the school year means long hours sitting at our desks, listening to professors lecture or writing papers. For some, it means long periods of playing solitaire in a boring general education class. For others, it is the start of something new and stressful-maybe the busiest class of their academic career.

Whatever it means to various students, there is one thing that unites us all: the desire to not fall asleep in class and turn into the boneless chair-dwellers that we saw in “Wall-E.” Believe it or not, there is a way to avoid stagnation. It’s called yoga.

Don’t groan. Yes, yoga is part of the New Age movement. Yoga is what hippies do, or those rich yuppies in California. Right? Wrong.

Yoga has been around for centuries and actually has been proven to help people build muscle tone and relax. The word itself means “union,” or “union of mind, body and spirit.” It literally brings the entire being into harmony, enabling practitioners to relax as well as exercise.

In the words of one famous fictional character, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” Or fail their classes.

So, yes, yoga. It’s easy, really. There are a few sets of asanas (poses) that are particularly easy for students to do, whether they’re in their room or at their desk.

Breathing is also a major part of yoga-it enables practitioners to center themselves and not pass out on the floor while stretching. The first thing to know is that you’ve got to breathe-take deep, cleansing breaths in and out. Know this: if you start to hurt, stop. Pain is not gain in yoga.

Start any exercise by taking a few deep breaths. This clears the mind and enables you to relax. Sit comfortably and breathe deeply and slowly, concentrating only on the in-and-out movement of your breath. Try to focus only on breathing and don’t let your thoughts run away with you. After five minutes, you are set to start your practice.

The best stretch to start with is called the Sun Salutation, called so because it’s almost exactly the natural stretch that everyone makes first thing in the morning. To begin, stand with your feet apart and hands together at your chest. Slowly reach your arms up and stretch backward without allowing your lower back to buckle, then bend forward to touch your toes.

Remember to breathe-this is where you can end up feeling dizzy.

Lunge forward with your right leg, letting your left knee touch the floor. Then bring your feet together again into the Downward Dog pose-your seat will be stuck in the air. Lower yourself to the floor to stretch your lower back, and then up into a lunge again (switch legs), touch toes, bend over backward and stand still for a few moments to dispel any dizziness.

There are also a few poses to do at a desk: reaching for the ceiling with both hands together to stretch the back and shoulders; reaching up with one arm while leaning to one side (lift your chest while doing this, as it makes the stretch better); and stretching your lower back by sitting up straight and turning slowly but fully to the side, without moving your legs. These all help.

So does “palming,” said Kristie Dahlia Home, author of Yoga: Natural Fitness for Body and Spirit.

“Rub your hands together briskly, then lightly press them to your closed eyes with your fingers pointing upward,” she said. “Visualize comfort emanating from them and let the warmth soothe your eyes.”

This can be helpful to anyone who spends hours in front of a computer.

A few more words to the wise for not turning into a zombie this semester: eat well and try to sleep for more than four hours a night. Choose a glass of water over the caffeinated sodas, because water actually helps the brain without putting it on a massive sugar high. Take time out of the studying game to relax. Your GPA will thank you.

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