Making a Different Choice

Having to choose between schoolwork, social life, or sleep shouldn't be a choice students face, says Kelly Bonner. The trick is learning how to keep it all in balance.

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Someone once showed me an image on a humor site that laid out, simply, your choices as a student for the kind of life you could lead. In it there was a triangle, with each of the points denoted by a phrase. The top point said Social Life, the right side said School Work, and the left had Sleep. The caption under the image said (roughly): You only have time enough for two. Take your pick.

For a lot of students, the choice seems like a no brainer: You can’t sacrifice your academic performance, and your social life is one of the few things keeping you involved and your need for human connection satisfied. Besides, who needs sleep anyway, right?

Except, that’s not right. We’re overworking ourselves: staying up late to study weekdays, going out late to party and drink on the weekends. And the less sleep you get, the less energy you have, resulting in subpar schoolwork, and feeling drained on the occasions that you do socialize. Blame it on “fear of missing out” syndrome, or on assuming because you’re young that you “can handle it.” Whatever the reason, I find that the choice to renounce sleep in favor of just about everything else to be a harmful standard for student life today. It leads to another truth: Sleep-deprived people don’t function well.

In a recent yoga class, the instructor insisted on keeping us in Savasana for a longer period of time than usual. As she quieted the room, she brought us deep into meditation, talking us into a trance started to feel a lot like …

Uh oh. I snapped back to consciousness. I focused as hard as I could to stay awake, but inevitably felt my mind and body shutting down. I feared that by falling asleep I was failing at yoga, at the chance for this final state of freedom from thought and of letting go.

But I learned something from my practice that day. My struggle with Savasana brought to my attention that I was ignoring my basic needs, something I had been able to do until then because in plowing through my day-to-day studies and socializing, I was doing the opposite of listening to my body. My failure at Savasana showed me that taking care of my physical well-being is as if not more important than keeping up with my school work and feeding my social needs.

At the same time, I was forced to confront something all students have a hard time coping with: the desire to do it all, and getting rid of whatever stands in our way. Pushing yourself to the limit shouldn’t be what life’s about, but it’s become so natural among students that it’s not even a question about whether or not to stay up, to stay out—to go among the living! And yet, what’s the point if you look and feel like the living dead? Perhaps the triangle got it wrong—the lesson here is it’s all about balance, which is the main message in yoga class. It’s not about picking two, but learning how to give all three sides equal weight. After all, you shouldn’t feel like an actual corpse in Corpse Pose.

Kelly Anne Bonner is the web edit intern at Yoga Journal. She’s a senior English major at the University of California, Berkeley, and has been practicing yoga since her freshman year.