For exclusive access to all our stories, including sequences, teacher tips, video classes, and more, join Outside+ today.
by Kelly Anne Bonner
College is a stressful time: there is no doubt about that. You have difficult classes, part-time jobs, and internships to keep track of, plus your friends and social life on the weekends. On top of that, you have influences leading in all directions, making you feel at times overwhelmed, not even at the bottom of the mountain looking up at the peak, but in the middle of the mountain looking down and realizing you’re too far to go back, then looking up and having no idea how much further it is, or if there is even a peak up there beyond the clouds.
Recently one of my roommates had come home from a particularly stressful day on campus, loaded with mountains of work. She told me she could not take a break because she had a meeting to go to back to on campus later that evening; everything she had on her plate needed to be taken care of now.
While I encouraged her to take some time to relax before going back, I understood where she was coming from, and had totally had those days where it was just non-stop, running to and from campus every couple hours, downing a coffee in the afternoon just to make it through the day. I was in the kitchen prepping my ingredients for baking, one of my stress-relievers in addition to yoga, while she sat on the couch racing through an article she had to read for class. I had settled into our quiet routine when suddenly, as I was stirring the batter, I felt a hand on my shoulder. She said in my ear, “I’m feeling kind of anxious.”
I turned around and saw how overwhelmed she was: she looked exhausted and on the verge of tears. I didn’t have to think about what I would tell her to do, because it is something I do for myself whenever I hit that state, which, for me and probably every other student, is at least once every few weeks. I told her the basics of a breathing exercise I had adopted from my yoga practice back in freshman year, which was to breathe in, hold for three seconds, then breathe out, all the way out, and hold for three seconds. Then to focus on this breathing and absolutely nothing else. She did this while pacing slowly around the kitchen.
After a few minutes of this, of us breathing in the hushed apartment, a couple other roommates came in, and she eventually became distracted, talking about our days and what was going on in the apartment, until she had to leave for campus. I thought she had forgotten about what had just happened, and I had turned back to baking, but before she closed the door to leave she turned to me and said, “Thanks. I feel OK.”
That’s all you ever want to be able to say, even in high-stress situations in college, or actually especially in high-stress situations in college: that you feel OK. Grounded, even. For me it’s a lesson in control, as my yoga instructor taught me at the beginning of my college career: control over the breath leads to control over the mind, and that allows you to activate calm even when your natural inclination is to panic, freak out—to lose your cool. It’s how I’ve been able to trek three and a half years through the rigors of college so far, to find peace in situations that are definitely anything but. When I have the power to create calm within myself, even if I’m still standing on the side of the mountain, it’s OK if I can’t see the peak. I know it’s up there somewhere.
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.