Yoga Works

Increasingly more RISD students have turned to yoga to help them relax, focus and tap into their creative strengths.

RISD students always seem to be searching for ways to relieve the build-up of stress that’s synonymous with studio-based learning. Some practice martial arts while others opt for weightlifting or running. And a growing number of students are turning to the ancient art of yoga to center themselves after critiques and align postures thrown out of whack from long hours spent hunched over workbenches. Yoga is offered at RISD through classes at the Catanzaro Student Center and through the student-run club RISD Yogis.

Since 1997 Donna Nassa has taught classes in Bikram yoga – a form of hot yoga – at RISD. Under her watchful eye, students meet twice a week to bend and twist their bodies in a mirrored room brimming with space heaters. As someone who also teaches at her own studio in Cranston, RI, she finds RISD students’ approach to yoga refreshing and unique.

“Art students appreciate yoga in a way that engineers and math majors find only later in their lives,” Nassa says. “It stimulates your creativity, so students leave revitalized and excited to get to work.”

Participants in RISD Yogis don’t practice in front of a mirror, but rather, when the weather permits, outside on the grass. A free, student-run yoga club, RISD Yogis is headed by Alice Glassier 13 PT and Eric Estenzo 13 ID/IL. Students are taught either Hatha or Kundalini yoga on Saturday afternoons by their peers, who are trained yoga instructors. Despite differences in their practices, both Nassa and Estenzo believe that yoga really helps open the mental floodgates.

“Yoga opens up opportunities for creating,” Estenzo says. “Physiologically, mentally and spiritually, it allows you to access yourself and let the creativity flow much easier.”

Even students who don’t participate in either of these groups may find themselves practicing yoga during class time. Professor Chris Bertoni incorporates yoga into her Foundation StudiesSpatial Dynamics class, asking students to take a break from work to pause, center themselves and bond with their classmates. Chloe Dorgan 15 PT explains her experience with in-class yoga: “We are dealing with space, volume, shape and material. How could we erase our own [forms] from the equation? Our [bodies] are vital to the creation of 3D work, as we revolve in space and around the objects we create. So tuning in and tending to those bodies is a very important part of being an artist.”

Whether students seek out yoga in their free time or it’s presented as part of the classroom experience, most agree that the experience makes them better people and artists, and that they benefit from stress relief, the loosened flow of creativity and better physical alignment and strength. The fact that a growing number of students actually clear their schedules a few nights a week for practice confirms its benefits. “RISD students have a lot more on their plates than most people, who can go home and have dinner after class,” Nassa says. “But you guys can’t. You’re right off to studio.” And it’s precisely this difference that makes yoga so valuable.

Samantha Dempsey 13 IL