Peace in the pandemic: Professor fights stress with yoga

As a yoga professor, Lisa Callahan knows how important it is to relax. 

“I feel for everyone that there is an unconscious stress that flows through all of us right now,” Callahan said. “I believe that yoga can be a tool to help with that.”

Callahan has been teaching yoga for 10 years, and has taught at Wichita State for 4 and a half years.  She initially started taking classes for the stretching, but found that it became a big stress-reliever.

“There would be a point in the middle of the class, where I would feel like, ‘Oh, there I am, that’s me’ and I would be able to recognize myself again,” Callahan said. “What kept me going was finding myself in it and letting go of stuff, and that was a journey for me.  It took me a long time to realize that there is energy in not being overstressed.”

Callahan has continued to teach her yoga classes at WSU in-person this semester, but said that the Human Performance Studies department has been very careful about keeping all students safe.  Students come in individually, every other mat is being used, and students all use a fresh pen to sign in.  Students are allowed to take their masks off when they get to their mat, and about half of them decide to do this.

Callahan said that a huge reason why she likes teaching yoga in person is because of the shared energy.  Students may come in feeling tired and stressed and the physical movement helps them let go of their stresses.  She said that it’s even harder for students to slow down because of their fast-paced lifestyle. 

“The actual word yoga means to yoke the mind and body, to bring the mind and body together.  This is the part that interests me, not just the physical aspect of ‘do I have the perfect warriors pose?’,” Callahan said.  “The work that I have to do in my brain to find the right muscles to engage is the part that interests me, and that’s what I try to bring to my students.”

A focus for Callahan this semester has been teaching students more advanced breathing techniques.

“This is something that I’ve wrestled with since spring, because one of the most important things about yoga is your breath, and that’s kind of a double edged sword these days,” she said.  “I wrestled with this but of all the times, what we need to do right now [during COVID-19] is get our lungs in shape.”

Callahan said that there are always more options for practicing yoga, even though she prefers practicing in a class with other people.  At the yoga studio she teaches they stream the classes via zoom so people can participate at home. There are also a wide range of youtube videos students can enjoy.

Callahan said that she loves teaching her students because they always take the class seriously and are willing to be introspective. She gets a mixture of students from various degrees who share, without knowing it, their knowledge with each other.

Something that Callahan has taken note of in her time of teaching at WSU is the level of anxiety students have, whether it be about their future, their major, or anything else.  Even though yoga doesn’t take care of every bit of anxiety, she said it can be a tool to help.

“I feel strongly that now more than ever, our WSU students who we care so much about need yoga,” Callahan said.  “It’s an outlet for them both physically and especially mentally …  The mental part, the stress-relieving part, is really important.”