The Gift of Yoga

This past Friday I got to do what I love to do the most – expose people to the wonderful gift of yoga. Had the studio at OmBodies filled with “old” and “new” CMU McNair scholars. I feel blessed that I’m in a position to actually do this in my work, in addition to “planting seeds” with pretty much any person I meet or talk to. I took a risk and started incorporating yoga into our scholar programming almost five years ago now. You see, we strive to support our students in ways that go far beyond academics.

When I talk about McNair, I like to say that we’re in the business of developing confident individuals who have the wherewithal to achieve an advanced degree if they so choose. I also like to say that no matter what you have for a goal, you aren’t going to be busting out anything of any real magnitude if you don’t have yourself together with baseline self-care. I call it EAT SLEEP MOVE. If you aren’t taking care of how you are doing each, you’re not going to be in any shape to really flourish in your life.

The fact is, our scholars spend a lot of time working very hard in their classes, many have jobs in addition, and they just have really full schedules that sometimes don’t allow for things like downtime, exercise, healthy eating, etc.

So where does yoga fit into this picture? And what makes yoga special?

Most logically it fits into the MOVE category of self-care, but it’s so much more than just exercise. It’s a type of exercise that offers physical benefits like strength and flexibility, but it also incorporates things like breath work and present moment awareness that can really lead to significant shifts in the way we exist and move through our daily lives.

It’s really a “practice” that one develops over time that usually starts with the physical postures, but often ends up becoming a way to feel more connection among your mind, body and spirit. The physical practice becomes more like a “moving meditation” and allows you to become more in tune with yourself. Some people even say that yoga can help you discover your true self.

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Yoga helps me let go of things that really don’t matter.

When you practice yoga, you begin to develop an “inner stature” or state of being in which your mind is at ease (thus, yoga is great for stress management). By going inward and focusing on the breath while engaging in the physical postures, you can, in a sense, train your mind to be more aware – more aware of how you might be feeling, more aware of external circumstances, aware of the constant flow of thought. The thing is, at the same time yoga teaches us how to become more aware, the goal is to not attach to any sort of outcome or desire. The goal of the moving meditation is simply to acknowledge what comes up and let it go – let it just float on by.

In talking with one of our scholars about what makes yoga great – she said, “It’s like cardio for the mind.” Brilliant.

This is where the real beauty is – as you go deeper inside yourself, you become clear on your intentions in life and who you are as a person. You also start to de-clutter the mind, getting rid of “stuff” that doesn’t really matter. Things in the past, things that might stress you out (that you can’t control), things that might not really matter all that much in the long run. You simplify. You simplify on lots of levels.

After I do yoga, I always feel wrung out. Wrung out on a physical level, but on the level of my mind too. It’s as if I’m getting down to the very nitty gritty of life, stripping away all the layers of bullshit that accumulate and getting down to my very core. Somehow, as I develop a sense of mindfulness, I’m finding myself letting go of things that don’t really matter. That might mean, something that someone said offhandedly that might have rubbed me the wrong way, to festering about the quiz that I didn’t do as good as I could have on, to being okay with where I’m at in my life, today. I think sometimes we can become so swept up in our daily responsibilities, our problems, our goals, that we can lose sight of the sweetness of life, that is, what is right at this very moment, right now.

That, in my mind, is the true gift of yoga.

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Research Class Time

A signature staple of McNair is our research writing class taught by Dr. Brooke Harrison. As new scholars beginning your McNair journey, Brooke will lead you in the process of starting work with your research mentors and basically sets the stage for what it means to be a scholar. Having this weekly dialogue and exchange on the research process, in conjunction with receiving guidance from your mentor, is pivotal in setting yourself up for success in McNair. Use this time wisely – getting support from Brooke as you craft your research proposal, sharing your experiences, your questions, your excitement with your fellow scholars, and supporting them in their journeys.

The Camaraderie

The beauty here is that you will be receiving baseline instruction on research writing, you’ll be doing some peer editing, you’ll also be hearing firsthand how others are progressing in the process. What’s great is sharing in this process as each of you evolves – in your thinking and understanding of your research – but also in your development as scholars. You will start to notice slight shifts in one another that only become more and more apparent in the summer into the fall as you each grow your confidence in your knowledge and abilities. Being that we always have a range of disciplines represented in McNair, scholars are intimately exposed to each other’s work. It’s one of the things we really love witnessing – scholars asking each other questions, really getting into each other’s work, supporting one another in this process. It’s awesome – especially when it comes time to present results and findings!

What’s great is sharing in this process as each of you evolves – in your thinking and understanding of your research – but also in your development as scholars.

The Structure

One thing we really try to do is provide structure in this process of developing your academic writing skills and doing original research. Brooke has developed a step-by-step plan for constructing your research proposals which includes a timeline that will help keep you on track during the semester and be fully prepped for the summer. It can be “tricky” facilitating this course in conjunction with each of you having you own individual research mentors in your own distinct disciplines. We dialogue quite a bit with our faculty so that everyone is “one the same page” with our intentions for the class as well as the McNair experience overall. Key point to keep in mind – always defer to your mentor for their guidance in the discipline and your specific project. Brooke’s role is to provide that generalized framework and baseline writing support. She can also help troubleshoot any particularly challenging issues the might come up. Bottom line here is that it’s a team effort – know that you are fully supported from all angles.

Key point to keep in mind – always defer to your mentor for their guidance in the discipline and your specific project.

The Talk

You’ll notice that besides focusing on the writing, we will also be focusing on the communication of your work – verbally that is. This is probably one of the most important things we do in my opinion. Being able to effectively talk about your work – one-on-one with people, in small group settings or even in large-scale conference venues – is essential. You need to be able to communicate about your work – why it’s important, what you are doing, what you hope to achieve. That’s why we supply you with multiple opportunities for honing these skills. You’ll be presenting your proposals in spring and your final results on several occasions in the fall.

We also have the support and expertise of the lovely Dr. Shelly Hinck – an impeccable communications coach. She’s been working with our McNair scholars for many years now – readying them for their presentations – coaching them on the interviewing process as well. Shelly “delivers the goods” in a way that’s super compassionate and gets to the heart of the matter all at once. She can read a situation like no other and insert suggestions for improvements (sometimes they are only small tweaks) that can turn your presentation into a real showstopper. You’ll work with Shelly one-on-one over the course of being a McNair scholar. I encourage you to take full advantage of her guidance and really work to implement her strategies and techniques – you’ll for sure be walking out the door with a much greater capacity to engage with others and talk about your work in the most compelling way.

Shelly “delivers the goods” in a way that’s super compassionate and gets to the heart of the matter all at once.