Funding yoga shouldn’t be a stretch

Emma McTague

When I started YogEphs, I did not expect the depth of its success. Hoping to share my yoga practice with other students, and encouraged by Mary Edgerton, a yoga instructor at the College, I taught our first class in the winter of 2022. During the nearly one and a half years since then, our club has blossomed into a popular Registered Student Organization (RSO): We currently offer free yoga classes seven days a week to all students, including the more than 450 members of our GroupMe. 

Clearly, students at the College are hungry for yoga practice. Some have told me that joining YogEphs was the turning point in their mental health here. Many students express desires for rest, for space and time to move more slowly, for opportunities to meet and connect with new friends. To students who are struggling, Professor of English Bernie Rhie often recommends therapy at Integrated Wellbeing Services (IWS), meditation, and YogEphs.

I am glad that our yoga club helps answer what students need, giving nourishment through music and silence, movement and stillness. However, in its current form, YogEphs — which offers a therapeutic service to all students — depends on student labor that is unrecognized, uncompensated, and unassisted by the College. 

For years, individuals have worked to bring contemplative practice to our campus, particularly yoga teachers Mary Edgerton and Amy Sosne. In 2019, organized by Senior Lecturer in Religion and Anthropology/Sociology Kim Gutschow, over 30 faculty and staff members signed a document justifying our need for a Contemplative Practices Center. Despite ongoing efforts, the Strategic Planning Committee has not yet incorporated this space — or even a single dedicated yoga room — into their plans for our campus. When I met with a project representative last year, he told me not to get my hopes up.

My hopes remain high. The College must at least match the peer institutions that have wellness centers with rooms allocated for yoga and meditation, including Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Hamilton, Trinity, and William & Mary. This semester, YogEphs meets in the Greylock dance studio five times a week and in Upper Goodrich twice, competing with dance teams and other RSOs for space. Sometimes we practice in the hallway if the Greylock dance studio is booked; sometimes we’ve had to practice without mats when we find ours missing from Upper Goodrich. A yoga room — used only for YogEphs, PE yoga, and other yoga programming — would give us the permanent home we need.

In past plans, yoga has fallen through the cracks because it sits at the intersection of several departments. A spiritual practice providing physical and psychological benefits, yoga combines elements of athletics and IWS but has room in neither of their locations. The chaplain’s office supports YogEphs with some of its limited funding, and FAST has covered our basic RSO expenses. Given current budgets and missions, no single office can provide yoga with the level of institutional support it requires to continue beyond individual efforts.

A College-sponsored program for yoga, perhaps paired with meditation and other practices, would. Last spring, when I decided to do my yoga teacher training after months of teaching for YogEphs, I messaged and met with 11 offices on campus, from the ’68 Center for Career Exploration to Fellowships to the Office of Campus Life. All said it was a nice idea, but none provided any funding, since training for yoga fell outside of the jurisdiction of their individual offices. Thankfully, I was able to pay for a 200-hour yoga teacher training with some of my savings. Not all students may be willing or able to do that.

In order for students to teach yoga safely and respectfully, with knowledge of anatomy and yoga’s long history, we all need to become certified instructors. Indeed, accredited yoga studios require it. Since the College does not yet fund these trainings, only two of the five students who teach for YogEphs have completed theirs. A new yoga program would cover the cost of yoga teacher trainings along with continuing education for all student instructors. 

This funding would only begin to balance the work that several students do for yoga on campus. If each student instructor were paid $50 per class (a low rate, by some standards) and we continue to offer seven classes during each of the semester’s thirty weeks (regular semesters, finals weeks, plus Winter Study), the College would pay $10,500 per year. That number does not include the hours we spend planning and executing administrative tasks so that classes run smoothly. 

According to current RSO policy, leaders are not compensated for their work. But YogEphs is more than a club: We offer a professional service, an ancient practice backed by modern science, a safe container for students to process their emotions and experience themselves newly. We offer a substantive and accessible option to support students and their mental health, complementing IWS which has been overburdened by demand in recent years. We offer a holistic approach to student wellbeing.

A yoga club used to exist here, but by the time I arrived on campus four years ago, it had faded due to the graduation of its leaders. The College now faces a choice: Step back and risk losing our progress, or step up and fulfill your role as an institutional leader willing to take new action for the wellbeing of all students. Creating a unified, fully-funded yoga program is the next step forward.

As I graduate in a few weeks, I pass YogEphs onto the leaders who will continue it. Yoga has helped all of us navigate the challenges of the College with flexibility. We teach to help other students do the same, serving while learning. I hope that, given new support, future leaders will continue our legacy with ease, finding open doors and new space. It is time for the College to reciprocate and protect our efforts for years to come. It is time. 

Emma McTague ’23 is an English and history major from Madison, N.J.