The Department of Exercise Science is offering 13 yoga classes to accommodate the number of students clamoring to learn the ancient spiritual practice. While students could go virtually anywhere in this city to take a yoga class, GW offers the truly passionate something different – the opportunity to learn how to become a yoga instructor and earn two credits at the same time.
“At the time I started teaching yoga in 2001, yoga was just starting to grow in popularity,” said Coordinator for Exercise, Research and Services Jacqueline Johnson, who created the Yoga Instructor Preparation course almost three years ago for the School of Public Health and Health Services.
“We did not have enough teachers to teach classes, so we asked the department if we could have this course, so we could supply the demand,” she said.
Johnson, who also teaches the class, said enrollment is kept small, with around eight students taking the course at any given time.
“We keep enrollment low because we want more one-on-one time with the students,” she said.
The two-credit class meets once a week for two hours, this semester on Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m. The students practice yoga during each class, and Johnson shows her students how to properly teach the different positions. The students also read textbooks on yoga postures and human anatomy, and are required to do 30 minutes of yoga practice on their own each day, and complete 15 hours of assistant teaching in a yoga class over the course of the semester.
Johnson’s class focuses on her favorite type of yoga, Sivananda, which focuses heavily on meditation and full breathing. But the Yoga Instructor Preparation course touches upon several different types of yoga, such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga. Today, there are around 20 main schools of contemporary yoga.
“For this course we want (the students) to get exposure to different styles, and have them decide what they want to continue with,” Johnson said.
About half the students that complete the Johnson’s class go on to teach yoga themselves within a year. Some students, like senior Natalie Wessel, an international affairs and pre-medicine major, lead their own yoga classes at the Health and Wellness Center.
Wessel began studying yoga in high school, but didn’t take her first class in the practice until her freshman year at GW. Wessel took the instructor course in the spring 2004 semester and was a yoga instructor at the Health and Wellness Center by the following fall.
“(Yoga) has been really life-changing for me. It’s been my part-time job and I’m probably going to continue doing it after I graduate. I’m even thinking about teaching full time,” Wessel said. “It is something I love doing and I get to get paid for something I love to do.”
The students who take Johnson’s course cover a wide variety of majors and ages. Daniel McNeely, a third-year GW law student, practiced yoga for about four years before taking the Yoga Instructor Course this semester.
“I wanted to deepen my practice of yoga in case this law degree doesn’t work out,” he said jokingly. McNeely said he got into yoga as an undergraduate at Butler University in Indiana, and found it a natural form of exercise for him. “I’ve always been flexible. (Yoga is) relaxing and toning. It’s a different type of fitness.”