Sep 30th, 2018, 10:12 PM

Didn't Know There's Yoga at AUP? Join the Club

By Kathleen Sharp
Image Credit: Unsplash/Victor Garcia
Yoga Club leader Leila Roker discusses AUP's yoga club, becoming a certified yoga instructor, and practicing in Paris.

It's a challenge for non-native students to practice yoga in Paris: many yoga studios are costly, some demanding hundreds of Euros per month in membership fees. The less expensive classes are rarely held in English and might be difficult to follow, especially for beginners to the sport. Leila Roker, a second-year student studying journalism at the American University of Paris is hoping to make yoga more accessible to her peers. Yoga is an ancient philosophy which focuses on meditation and breathing, and which fosters a spiritual awareness of the body as those practicing it "flow," or move, between bodily postures and positions. Yoga began some 5,000 years ago in India.

Image Credit: Unsplash/Stephen Sandian

Today, yoga studios exist all across the globe, dozens of which are in Paris. For those students at AUP looking to begin or to deepen their practice, the yoga club is a great starting point and resource. Leila became involved with the yoga club last semester after mentioning to a university official that she would train this summer to have a yoga instructing certificate. This summer she took an intensive course at a YogaWorks in SoHo, New York City and studied the art for two hundred hours. Now, having gained an even deeper appreciation for the philosophy, she has returned to AUP ready to lead others in their pursuits.

The school owns about twenty yoga mats, some instructional cards with basic yoga poses, and other yoga accessories like foam bricks to support the body or to adapt challenging poses. This equipment is currently housed in the basement-level Wellness Room of the Grenelle building where previous classes have been held, but the location of the classes may change as the semester progresses.

Image Credit: Unsplash/Lena Bell

Leila addressed some misconceptions about the yoga club. "Class isn't meant to be exclusive," Leila said, and it isn't going to be about pushing one's body to its physical extremes, but rather about finding and setting an intention. These intentions can be as simple as getting a good stretch or as staying present and concentrated for the duration of a yoga session. The club welcomes students of all levels and aims to spread awareness about the benefits of yoga, not push for students to fit a mold or cookie-cutter shape that some instructors could push their pupils to match. Some instructors she has encountered at private studios in Paris have been eager to show off their own flexibility and expertise. "The extreme popularization of yoga [from the Instagram-sphere means that] sometimes teachers want to show off all the poses [they] can do." On the contrary, Leila wants yoga at AUP "to be accessible and not a competition." She admits that it's easier said than done, but encourages the students to go into class saying to themselves that they're only there for themselves and to grow from where they're starting. 

Other students have also expressed an interest in yoga for its calmative properties. Joachim Fernandez, a junior at AUP studying journalism who has "dabbled" in yoga, thinks that if he were consistently participating in a "yoga program, it would be extremely beneficial to [his] life" and that yoga is good for the "mind and the body." Similarly, sophomore and creative writing major Leonardo Tow believes in the transformative powers of the practice. He was introduced to yoga by his sister who, like Leila, holds a yoga certification. He has not, however, tried to practice yoga in Paris, outside a couple of times in his apartment. While he does "know of a couple of studios," he is inhibited by the "time and commitment" a regular yoga membership requires. Being in a student-run yoga club like the one at AUP appeals to him greatly presuming it doesn't interfere with his class schedule.

Image Credit: Leila Roker

When asked about collaborating with the guided meditations on campus, Leila says that "especially [since] we're college students and we're doing a bunch of courses, the meditation part is very necessary." She has used yoga to calm herself before stressful exams or student visa appointments and has experienced the benefits of combining meditation and yoga. Coupled, the two practices allow for relaxation and are proven to alter the yogi's mental state

If you're interested in learning the ways yoga strengthens the body and mind, keep an eye out for flyers or announcements related to class schedules and club meetings. Incorporating the 5,000 years of yoga tradition into your daily life may be much simpler than you imagine.