Calling all yogis: St Andrews’ best new society grows up but not old

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Child's pose. Illustration: Eleanor Jenkins
Child's pose. Illustration: Eleanor Jenkins
Child’s pose.
Illustration: Eleanor Jenkins

It took me a minute to walk to the church where YogiSoc were having their Tuesday class. Facing large monastic windows, with chanting songs playing softly in the background, 10 of us followed a strenuous yoga pattern led by instructor Katherine before a relaxing meditation
at the session’s end.

Founding member Joana Westphal set up the society in the hopes of meeting other yoga enthusiasts. By October of last year, YogiSoc had a committee and had started hosting classes. Since then, Joana says the society has worked hard to improve its organization and is trying out several new ideas to engage students. Winning the Best New Society Award meant that YogiSoc started off the year with £160, which has helped them line up their class schedule this semester.

For example, members wanted a class devoted to meditation, and, using a grant from the Sports Union, YogiSoc has catered to their members’ demands and booked the boutique studio at The View, every Monday evening. There’s no charge for the class. Instead, attendees can choose to donate and choose a new charity every month to sponsor. Since September, the society has raised money for Families First and the Scottish Association of Mental Health.

Lotus pose.  Illustration: Eleanor Jenkins
Lotus pose.
Illustration: Eleanor Jenkins

I asked one instructor, Emily Brett, how intense the training is to become certified and was astounded by her reply: Fully certifiable training to become a yoga instructor takes 200 hours. Emily was undaunted even though she was the youngest person training with Tami Schneider, one of the eleven senior teachers of Baptiste Yoga in the world. The commitment was physically exhausting, and she admitted it took a month for her body to adjust to the intensity of her training. She remembers an especially intense session when she had to meditate for six hours and maintain the cross-legged pose without falling asleep.

Emily’s experience has not deterred other society members from seeking certification themselves. One society member is planning to become certified during Christmas break, which will add another teacher to the society’s roster.

Despite the intensity of their training, the society does not take itself too seriously, and its committee members are keen to try new things. There’s a levelheaded quality to its organization. President Joana says, “We’re efficient and get stuff done.”

Downward dog. Illustration: Eleanor Jenkins
Downward dog.
Illustration: Eleanor Jenkins

At the start of the year the society staged a successful Yoga Workshop, introducing students to the three styles of yoga as taught by the student instructors. The instructors also led a session of laughter yoga, a style in which yoga is used to help improve breathing exercises
and increase oxygen intake.

YogiSoc is also focusing on offering a variety of yoga events. They collaborated with DanceSoc at the start of the year, holding a special joint session for just £1. At the end of October, they organized a Broga event, in which every attendee who brought along a male student received a discounted class rate. While there are several men in regular attendance, this event was meant to encourage more guys to get involved. It was a smashing success.

Calder Hudson, who is often found practicing at society classes, dismisses the notion that yoga is for women. He says, “Gender doesn’t really change the experience much — nor should it.
I go to yoga classes to do yoga. I think the St Andrews yoga community is, above all else, inviting to new people. Some societies can be a bit resistant to newcomers, which I think can be more detrimental to those societies than they often realize. Thankfully, the yogis are both accessible and welcoming.”

You can pay per class as a non-member, pay a membership fee of £5 and receive member rates or buy various class passes, either eight at a time or unlimited throughout the semester.

Society member Pippa Macnair felt this last option was best for her. “I started practising yoga over the summer and went to a YogiSoc class with a friend at the start of this term
and loved it,” she said. “Unlimited membership just seemed like a practical plan because overall it’s a big costs saver and it encourages you to keep going along.”

This was also what attracted Louisa Henson, who said, “I practice three times a week and I would never get that value for [the same] money anywhere else. I started yoga this summer on a surf holiday in Morocco and got addicted. I think yoga is so beneficial for mental health and just learning to accept yourself and be happy.” Several members of YogiSoc cite their yoga practice as essential for dealing with coursework.

While there are many yoga classes taught around St Andrews, YogiSoc provides the longest class times, which allow for both a strenuous workout and a fulfilling meditation session at the end of each class.

YogiSoc is also keen to encourage yoga newcomers. Treasurer, Emily Grant, only began practicing yoga in her second year at university. She had never thought it was for her until her mother convinced her to attend a class. “I’ve always been so competitive that the idea of yoga was really unappealing,” she said. “However, my mom finally wore me down, and within a few classes I was hooked! It was really something I needed to start doing at that time in my life. Yoga is a really great and low-impact way to stay in shape, and I had just completely torn up my joints from years of competitive sports.”

Response to YogiSoc has been overwhelmingly positive. Committee members believe this is because of the community atmosphere created at classes and the opportunity for regulars to get
to know each other very quickly. Emily says, “Whether we’re laughing at how ridiculous we all look in certain poses or sharing a few pints, it’s just a very healthy, welcoming environment.” From socials to classes and soon-to-come special events, this circle of Yogis isn’t shrinking any time soon.

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