UA yogi stretches toward new hobbies


CW / Joe Will Field

Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW, Staff Reporter

When Alaina Wilson began practicing yoga during her sophomore year of college, she did not expect the all-around benefits it could bring to her life. She has since picked up acro yoga, which has provided holistic benefits to her everyday life. 

The transition to college often includes not only a separation from friends and family, but a detachment from high school activities as well. Some people choose to continue things such as sports or hobbies, while others find new interests to pick up. The latter was the case for Alaina Wilson, a former high school cheerleader who felt a little lost when she arrived on campus.

Wilson, a senior majoring in psychology from Neighborville, Illinois, discovered yoga during her second year at The University of Alabama.

“I started yoga for personal fitness reasons,” Wilson said. “My goal was less about weight loss and more about stress relief and feeling good overall. I started taking classes in the Rec Center, and it didn’t take long for me to realize all of the other benefits that yoga was going to give me.”

Whitney Pape, the manager of fitness services at both the Student Recreation Center and Robert E. Witt Student Activity Center on campus, shared a similar experience with yoga. 

“Our ‘Be Well’ class is more restorative, and uses props and poses to focus on breathing and meditation for comfort. This is one way to reduce stress and tension,” Pape said. “There is also a gentle yoga class for simple stretching, which is less involved. Finally, the general yoga class that follows a flow, and is more traditional but with a western twist to make sure everyone is comfortable.”

Yoga is both a spiritual and physical discipline derived from Hindu traditions and values, and is known to benefit its practitioners, or “yogis,” both on and off the mat. While westernized yoga often focuses more on the physical practice, or asana, than traditional Hindu yoga, those benefits are still felt. 

“While I started it as a fitness thing, I learned more about the positive mental health benefits and felt it was way more fun and interesting than the gym,” Wilson said.  “I will admit it took more bodily awareness than I thought. It is more than just intense stretching.”

At both of the campus recreation centers, there are different style classes that adhere to certain needs or specialties. 

“We offer free classes to students and members, and welcome all levels,” Pape said. “The classes are generally an intermediate level, but our instructors know both the beginner and advanced modifications.”

These classes have principles that often pervade into everyday life.

“I definitely feel like I have learned a lot through yoga that I have applied to other parts of my life, like focusing on present breathing and mindfulness,” Wilson said. 

While Wilson now primarily practices yoga on her own, she started with classes at the University’s recreational facilities. 

“I even attended a training in Birmingham for people looking to be yoga teachers,” Wilson said. “From that certification class I learned a lot, and now I know how to do this on my own [instead of in a guided class],” Wilson said. 

Wilson ultimately decided not to become an instructor, and chose to focus her practice on herself instead.

“There are so many helpful videos on YouTube, so if I feel stuck, I turn to those,” Wilson said. “I mostly practice at home, and I have taken a class in Birmingham before. I like to do it outside over by the Riverwalk too, but sometimes I feel weird about all the other people out there watching me.”

After getting comfortable with yoga, Wilson went on to discover acro. Acro focuses more on flexibility and balance, and is often done with a trusted partner.

“It was something I never thought I could do,” Wilson said. “I followed different accounts on Instagram and just admired how cool it was.”

Toward the end of her sophomore year, Wilson was bored and stuck at school for Easter, she said.

“I saw that there was a class in Birmingham, so I went for the first time,” Wilson said. “Everyone was so nice, and that’s when trying new things became a habit for me.”

Wilson was involved in the UA chapter of CHAARG, a club for collegiate girls looking to work out with peers. 

She now trains with the Triathlon Club and is participating in her first triathlon in the upcoming weeks.

“Your body can do anything you train it to do,” Wilson said. 

That is also her advice to anyone interested in trying out either yoga or acro. 

“Yoga is definitely for everyone, with any type of body and any level of fitness,” Wilson said. “There will always be some way to be successful, and so many ways for anyone to benefit.”