Closer Look

Yoga: How An Ancient Art Remains Relevant

Ellen Bauch// The Phoenix


It’s a warm Wednesday night on the fourth floor of the Richard J. Klarchek Information Commons. Space fills up steadily and colorful mats cover the ground. Mahea Schuman, a senior health systems major and yoga teacher from Hawaii, scrolls through Spotify, settling on a calming playlist. Soon everyone in the room is in child’s pose as Schuman directs breathing exercises. Some breaths are audible and you can almost hear stress flying away over Lake Michigan.

Once an ancient art, yoga has grown into an international phenomenon. The word “yoga” stems from the word “yug,” meaning “to hitch up” in the Indo-European language Sanskrit, according to Yoga Journal.

While specifics regarding the origins of the practice remain scarce, many believe an Indian man named Patanjali, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, to be the father of yoga. His work, Yoga Sutra, is considered to be “framework upon which all yoga practiced today is based,” according to Yoga Journal.

Critics say the cost of yoga is is too high. Vive Yoga, located directly off the Loyola Red Line stop on Sheridan Road, offers single classes for students with an ID for $12 and single classes without an ID for $15. A “Student Class Package,” which is valid for three months, offers five classes for $55 or 10 classes for $100.

In comparison, Loyola’s own athletic center, Halas, offers nine classes a week free to Loyola students. Schuman teaches three: Tuesdays at 4 p.m. and Thursdays at 7:45 p.m in Halas, and Wednesdays at 10 p.m. in the IC, which is sponsored by the Department of Programming.

After occasionally practicing yoga during her childhood, Schuman started to train as a yoga teacher her second semester freshman year.

“When I got to college, it was a big transition, obviously, because you don’t have sports and activities — you just have college,” Schuman said. “I decided I needed something to do, so I joined a yoga studio and signed up for training immediately.”

Practicing 20 to 30 hours a week, Schuman said she started to see changes in her body right away, specifically weight loss and muscle gain.

In addition to physical developments, Schuman said she recognized mental changes as well.

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“I didn’t get as anxious, I didn’t get as homesick [and] I was able to be calmer and study better,” she said. “I didn’t really track it back to yoga at first. I just realized, ‘Oh hey, I’m not as stressed out, I don’t miss home as much, I’m happier and Chicago winter isn’t that bad.’”

For Schuman, steady practice has led to friendships and a life she couldn’t have imagined four years ago.

“There’s a girl who started practicing with me her freshman year, it was the first class she’s ever taken … It’s been fun because I have been able to watch her for the past three years. You definitely see changes in people,” Schuman said. “It’s changed where I want to go in the future. It’s changed my college direction.”

Instead of using her health systems degree to pursue a career as the CEO of a hospital, Schuman said she thinks working with people on a smaller scale would be more rewarding. She credits yoga for helping her see life’s bigger picture and becoming a more down-to-earth person.

Some physical benefits of yoga include increased flexibility, muscle strength, improved respiration, balanced metabolism, weight loss and protection from injury, according to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

Specific poses, called “asanas,” can also help relieve pain in areas with problems throughout the body.

For example, heavy backpacks can cause back pain.

Sphinx pose, which is done by laying on your stomach and raising your chest to rest on your elbows, and bow pose, which is done by laying on your stomach, reaching behind for your feet and lifting them up, help strengthen the back and reduce pain, according to Yoga Journal.

Midterm and finals weeks typically are stressful times for students and can cause many to lose sleep.

Legs-up-the-wall pose is considered to be a restorative pose practiced toward the end of a yoga session. It is done by laying flat on the ground with your legs extending up the wall. It can help with insomnia, headaches and anxiety, according to Yoga Journal.

In addition to physical benefits, controlled breathing and meditation have been shown to improve “mental well-being” and concentration by focusing on self-awareness, according to the AOA website.

The trend of combining exercise with stress relief has launched the ancient practice of yoga to the forefront of athletic culture in the past decade. In a study published by Statista, an online statistical database, 16.21 million people in the United States practiced yoga or pilates regularly in 2008. By spring of 2015, that number was 25.4 million.

With its large growth in popularity, yoga has shifted to the digital world. A simple search on YouTube brings up thousands of yoga videos. One channel, Yoga with Adriene, has almost 1.3 million subscribers and 74 million views on more than 235 uploaded videos.

Yoga instructor Rachel Brathen, who lives in Aruba, gained more than 1.8 million Instagram followers after posting yoga-related content — videos, tutorials and her own thoughts — on her account.

“There’s no right way to breathe, but the better way to breathe is to slow the breath down,” Brathen recently told “It slows everything down so it helps you calm the mind, calm the body.” –

In early 2015, Brathen published her own memoir titled Yoga Girl. It quickly became a New York Times best-seller.

It’s not only average people who are becoming yogis. Doctors are using yoga as a method of therapy for patients with injuries and disabilities.

Dr. Sandi Tenfelde, a researcher and professor at Loyola’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, plans to conclude a study in summer 2016 on women with urinary incontinence, or a lack of bladder control caused by inflammation, and the effect yoga has on inflammation levels, according to a study outline provided by Dr. Tenfelde.

Half of all women in the United States suffer from urinary incontinence but only 25 percent of people diagnosed actually seek treatment, resulting in social, economic and emotional “burdens” on women with the ailment, according to the study outline. Dr. Tenfelde wants to find out if yoga lowers inflammation or helps with stress related to the side effects of the issue.

To test this, Dr. Tenfelde measured the amount of inflammation in the blood and urine before the study. Participants currently partake in two yoga classes a week. After eight weeks, levels will be tested again.

After her husband started the process of becoming a yoga instructor, Dr. Tenfelde was inspired to do the same.

She now teaches classes at the Loyola medical campus and Halas open only to nursing students during finals week. She said she hopes participants continue practicing even when the study finishes because of its multiple benefits besides those tested in the study.

“I want to bring yoga into the community and find ways to make it sustainable,” said Dr. Tenfelde. “In order to go to a class, you don’t have to belong to a studio or wear LuLu Lemon [popular yoga clothing brand]. This [study] is a way to get it into our daily lives.”

Mercedes Jasso, a junior nursing major from Zion, Illinois, is new to the yoga scene but already feels its effects.

“I honestly feel so replenished,” said Jasso. “It’s so calming and relaxing. I forget that I am actually working out. My whole body feels at ease and ready to conquer the day.”

After only a few months of consistent practice, Jasso has set standards for the future.

“When I first started by myself, it was hard to get into the swing of things,” Jasso said. “My goal is to keep doing yoga and to reach a point where I can practice it by myself.”

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