This post is inspired by a recent article on EJ written by the renowned Ayurveda doctor John Douillard. Here, he wrote about the main problems today regarding college health, with college kids partying and hanging out with friends regularly up till 3AM on weekday nights, and sustaining themselves with nothing more than sugary granola bars, pizza and coke, nachos, caffeine, and the so-called energy drinks (Red bull, 5 hour energy, etc). Late nights, bad food, cramming, stress, and partying to destress became the five dominating factors of a typical college student's life. My college experience, however, was slightly different. Sure, there were late nights, mostly trying to finish up the frequent and extremely brain-racking assignments before 2AM, which consequently ended up with late-night snacking and stress. As a private liberal arts college specializing in science and engineering, my college boasts rigorous academics in order to "educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians well versed in all of these areas and in the humanities and the social sciences so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society."
There was the infamous saying introduced to us during freshmen orientation: "Sleep, social life, school. Choose two." So much for balance.
The first year of college, my practice kind of fell off the wagon--I'd pat myself on the bat if I manage to squeeze in two practices per week. There weren't any shalas nearby, and as someone who was still relatively new to Ashtanga, my motivational fire extinguished all too quickly.
The summer after my freshmen year, I returned to Taiwan for my break (I attended college in California) and was re-inspired by my teachers and classmates. I promised myself that starting my sophomore year, I would practice at least 3 times per week. This time, I kept to it.
Overtime, I came to appreciate the practice. Before college, Ashtanga was, more or less, just as series of physical asanas to me (I guess this holds true for most beginners). My practice became a time when I can ground myself, feel centered, and feel at home. I began enjoying the early mornings--a most exquisite and beautiful hour most college students miss out unless, of course, they have stayed up till that hour from the previous night. My single dorm room was small, with just enough floor space to fit my cheap mat I bought from Target.
Maintaining my practice was not easy, especially as a full-time college student. For one thing, I worked on research and thesis up to 20 hours per week on top of my usual school work, had orchestra rehearsals two nights a week and other extracurricular activities. I tried my best to get in bed by 11pm so that 6am wouldn't be so difficult. What can I say, sometimes school just got in the way and I had to choose an extra couple hours of sleep over practicing. Second of all, my ego comes into play. When I returned to Taiwan for my breaks, I would notice, and become a little jealous of, my classmates advancing (in asanas) while I remained at the same spot.
Nevertheless, I was, am, grateful that I had this practice with me. Not only did it help me cope with stress, it also stopped me from consuming all the carbs and chocolate stored in my pantry (okay, you got me, most of the time it did) when I do feel stressed out , knowing that I would only regret it the moment I stepped into my first downward facing dog the following morning. Sure, I was not your "normal" college student, and some gave me looks when I told them I was usually in bed by 11pm, but I felt healthier and better about myself. Did yoga make me antisocial? Not all that much. I might not have been at every single social scenes there were on campus, and I might not have been that acquainted with the party kids at school, but I still had fun on the weekends with my closer friends.Those who knew me well respected my schedule, and of course there were times when I wanted to be a little more "normal" and hang out till 1 or 2am. Besides, I was never the party type anyway, not even before yoga and I tied the knot.
Now that I am doing my postgraduate studies, my schedule is even more ridiculously...early. Bed by 10pm, up at around 5am,do a short pranayama practice, then out the door to the shala. Arrive at 6:15am, start practice, and finish around 8:15am. And depending on my class schedule that day, I either catch the bus to go directly to school or go home for a sweet shower. It's a routine, yet an efficient one, and I like it. :-)