Illustration by Kelsey Hill.
Illustration by Kelsey Hill.

Across campus students are stretching, twisting and leaning into poses that are not only physically challenging, but also mentally demanding. Yoga is on the upswing, and there is much more to it than cute headbands and the latest Lululemon leggings.

“Yoga classes appeal to undergrads for the same reasons they appeal to many people because of the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional benefits,” said yoga instructor Don Bard. “Yoga practice can provide a strong physical workout, develop mindfulness skills, encourage a deeper connection to social responsibility and teach participants various meditation and relaxation techniques.”

The Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) offers a variety of classes including beginner and advanced levels and hybrids of yoga and martial arts such as Warrior Yoga.

The prices range from $10-$100 per quarter, considerably cheaper than many classes offered at studios off campus. About six beginning and intermediate Iyengar yoga classes are offered each quarter. Iyengar yoga is a more traditional, individualized class that focuses on teaching beginners the proper alignment and detail of each pose.

“Shouting out general corrections is not good enough. It is not what I call teaching,” instructor Rena Cochlin said. “Unless you instruct and go around individually, someone could get hurt. The Iyengar tradition is a great one.”

It’s this precise attention to detail and correction that draws both beginning and experienced students to these classes. Last year 427 students, about 140 students per quarter, were enrolled in beginning and all-levels classes alone. This year there are about 180 beginning level students enrolled per quarter, filling all of the spaces available. This is a significant increase in participation over past years as many students are realizing the benefits of the practice.

“This quarter is my first time ever practicing yoga and I love it. It helps us better understand our bodies. It allows us and forces us to finally feel how our various parts are connected,” student Augusta Alexander said. “I am by no means a master at yoga, and even I can say that I am more aware of my body and self than ever before.”

Yoga classes at UCSC have been offered since the 1970s, and with increasing popularity through media and the desire to be fit, it continues to gain momentum campuswide. As popularity increases, so does the diversity of the yoga practice.

With a multitude of options ranging in difficulty and style, class preference is ultimately up to what the student wants out of the practice. While traditional beginner methods offer a more detailed, personalized style of yoga that is based on quietness, hybrids like Warrior Yoga are developed to be a more dynamic flow that builds confidence through challenging poses.

Since it started in 1995, Warrior Yoga sparked the interest of over 4,000 students per year. Warrior Yoga instructor Kevin Snorf said about 70-100 determined students stick it out each quarter and finish the course. Warrior Yoga originally started as a warm-up for mixed martial arts, but its popularity led to it breaking off into a separate class.

“We can learn to work with difficulty in a way that makes us better people,” Snorf said. “Yoga helps with accepting difficulty and being okay with it.”