How Yoga Made Me a Better Student

Finding my Zen—on and off the mat

By Makena Finger

yoga

Illustration by Martina Paukova

 

On a cold Tuesday night in December, I rode the 40 bus to Anjali Power Yoga on South Street in Philadelphia, where I had applied to take my yoga teacher training. I circled the block to kill the 15 nervous minutes I was early, and when I finally met with the studio owner, I learned I’d been accepted to the program. It was then that the weight of the physically and emotionally demanding 200-hour teacher training program really hit me. The kicker? I’d complete it during my junior year at Wharton.

I had no idea what I was getting into that night. I’d started practicing yoga a year and a half earlier, in an effort to become more flexible. I struggled physically at the beginning, but eventually yoga became a regular part of my weekly routine. Slowly, it permeated my life: I started to practice every day, read about yogic philosophy, and wore athletic clothes to class so I could go straight to the studio afterward. I even got into the habit of breaking out in yoga poses as a study break. Given my developing love for yoga, teacher training seemed like the natural next step.

I’ll spare the sweaty details; I found training exciting, rewarding and exhausting. I was prepared for the travel to and from the training site in New Jersey, the long weekends of back-to-back classes, and the pit in my stomach before I taught on my own for the first time. What I never expected was that my deepened yoga practice would make that semester at Wharton my most rewarding and enjoyable yet.

On the first night of training, we took a 90-minute Power Yoga class. As the teacher asked us to hold a plank for what seemed like an eternity, she implored us to be “unmessable,” or unfazed by any external circumstance. She suggested that we can think and behave the same way when facing a challenge as we do on the best days of our lives. In that moment, something clicked. I realized that what I experienced while practicing yoga could translate to the rest of my life. I decided to bring an unmessable attitude to my time at Wharton.

My yoga teacher implored us to be unfazed by external circumstances. In that moment, something clicked.

It was just about then that I failed an exam for the first time in my life. My immediate reaction was deep disappointment in myself. One evening I confided in my classmate and friend, also a yoga instructor, and she gave me advice that has stuck with me ever since: If I could stop worrying about the grade itself and instead put that energy into learning the content, I would be more productive and happier.

Her wisdom confirmed that I can choose to be unmessable every day. When I get assigned a last-minute project, when I spend 30 minutes waiting for the bus instead of studying, when my calendar has no white space left—I try not to let any of it rattle me.

My spring semester was chaotic in the truest sense of the word. I spent my days in class and at work, juggled club meetings and countless hours at the yoga studio in the evenings, and went for training on weekends. I saw less of my friends and more of the studio’s clients. Reading my stochastic processes textbook on the bus became my regular weeknight routine. But despite the busyness of my external life, I was as inwardly happy as I’ve ever been. All areas of my life came to balance in a new equilibrium. I found my rhythm with a steady undercurrent of yoga.

Now I apply yoga in countless ways. I learn to overcome fear through working on my handstand, and I find that same calm before important presentations. I apply the discipline from working on difficult postures to being efficient in my studying. Most importantly, I continue to learn from yoga as I come back to my mat each day.

As I look into the vast unknown of my post-graduation life, I feel a sense of comfort and excitement. Although I don’t know where I’ll live or work, I do know that as long as I have my yoga practice, I’ll be just fine. In fact, I’ll be happy.


Makena Finger is a senior from Souderton, PA, concentrating in statistics at Wharton with a minor in math in the College. Aside from teaching yoga on- and off-campus, Makena is co-president of Wharton Ambassadors and a tour guide with the Kite and Key Society.

 

Published as “This Unmessable Life” in the Fall 2016 issue of Wharton Magazine.

 

 

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