Relaxing in 2020: Sounds Like A Bit of A Stretch

by, Cort Dylan Koss, Contributor

There are few places better to be than the quadrangle on a September evening, and better yet, a place to find your center and catch your breath. Sunset yoga on the quad has become a staple of the Manhattan College Fitness & Wellness Center’s outdoor programs. 

Jay Ahmed, director of fitness & wellness at the college, wanted to make sure his department offered plenty of options for the student body. 

“This year we wanted to make a big push on our end as far as student life,” Ahmed said. 

Since the only option for fitness classes on campus is outdoors, Ahmed wanted to make sure the student body has access to a variety of options until the fitness center re-opens. His department is currently holding several other socially distanced outdoor fitness programs such as mixed-martial arts, taekwondo, and total-body bootcamps.

“Take a deep breath, and focus your energy to that one spot that has really been nagging you this week,” Kerry Donegan, co-owner of Bronx Yoga Lab, and one of the yoga instructors teaching on campus this semester, said during one of the classes. 

This local studio has stepped up to offer the student body something desperately needed: a way to slow down and regain focus. Donegan specializes in a discipline of yoga called yin, which, she said “is a very focused thing, something that is very slow and finding out about your own body.” 

Donegan, who has lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years, is happy to be on campus sharing her passion for yoga with the student body. Her enthusiasm was clear as she meticulously guided each student into a proper form. She noticed when anyone had trouble with certain movements and would stop to help straighten them out. 

“Moving mindfully is really important, no matter what you are doing, whether you are playing lacrosse, football, or soccer,” Donegan said. “Injury often happens because you are attacking something. And sometimes by slowing down and thinking about how you are moving, and doing something like yoga or Pilates to offset the impact or pressure your body takes from the other sports that you do can be really useful in helping not only to build strength and stamina and flexibility but also to avoid injury.”

With a semester unlike any other well underway, many students require opportunities to be mindful, reduce stress, and heal from injuries. 

“For those who may have not suffered an injury, and gone through physical therapy, finding awareness in your body can be challenging,” Donegan said.

Students like Schulyer Alpaugh, a junior English and philosophy major, really appreciate the options. Like many students, Alpaugh is on a tight budget and loves having a free yoga class right on campus. She has attended many of the sunset yoga sessions. 

“I started doing yoga in high school, as one of my gym electives senior year,” Alpaugh said. “Hopefully, it doesn’t get too cold and they continue to do it.” 

Ahmed also believes the need for these classes came from a place of need due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

”The thing about our industry is that people are hungry,” Ahmed said. “The whole industry was shut down and unless you were passionate about it and made it happen on your own, there was nothing.”    

New restrictions and social distancing protocols have changed nearly everything about fitness & wellness. Ahmed, in his second year in charge of fitness & wellness, took this challenge as an opportunity to learn about what outdoor fitness methods appeal to the student body. 

“I started total-body bootcamps to gauge the interest of classes,” he said. “Even though there were not many people on campus, those that came out gave ideas on how to organize outdoor group activities in the safest way possible,”

Now in its third year, the yoga program has been well-received at Manhattan College. There is an appreciation among students who want to slow down and focus on oneself, which has become increasingly difficult in a place like New York City. Yoga allows the opportunity to do exactly that; it is like housekeeping for the body. 

“It is one hour of my day where I don’t have to look at any screens, I don’t have to do anything else except focus on my breathing, and check in with what I am doing.” Alpaugh said.