Pitt offers students yoga classes to relax during finals


Image courtesy of Kevin Sciullo

Students exercise at a Zumba class during Rec O Mania in 2019.

By Julia DiPietro, Staff Writer

Yoga isn’t confined to a gym or studio on campus. Sunset yoga takes advantage of the great outdoors with warrior poses set to the setting sun. Or, to amp up the fun, students can try Glowga, or glow-in-the-dark yoga.

With the rush of finals season, students can turn to Pitt Campus Recreation to destress through a special schedule of end-of-the-semester yoga classes and personal training. Yoga increases flexibility and endurance in muscles and enhances stress reduction while encouraging proper breathing.

Campus recreation sessions are 30 to 45 minutes long and are designed for all skill levels. They are held in the Petersen Events Center’s Baierl Recreation Center Gym, Trees Hall, William Pitt Union or Bellefield Hall. Students can participate in as many classes as they want, and there is an average of 40 classes per week offered.

The last two weeks of the semester, Pitt is offering “Destress B4 The Test,” a special lineup of yoga classes to help students ease their minds, according to Emily Onorato, a campus recreation yoga instructor. Onorato will be teaching class sessions this week.

“During finals season, students often feel overwhelmed, which causes many people to forget that they need to take time to rest,” Onorato said. “I will be offering multiple yoga classes during the week of Dec. 6 to 10 to provide students with a space to relieve some of their test stress.”

Onorato said there are many positive health benefits for college students that do yoga.

“College is such a busy and exciting time in our lives, which makes it easy to get overwhelmed and stressed by the pressures of its work-life balance,” Onorato said. “I believe that carving out an hour of your day to spend on your mat taking care of your body and mind is a wonderful way to find that equilibrium.”

There are many different types of classes offered by Campus Recreation, including Vinyasa yoga — the practice of linking breathing to movement through various sequences of yoga poses. Onorato currently teaches Vinyasa classes on Tuesdays at Trees Hall from 5:15 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“My sequences usually consist of powerful yoga movements intended to strengthen the body and mind,” Onorato said. “I end my classes with a few minutes of gentleness to cool down after all of the hard work you just put into the practice.”

Besides these classes offered by Pitt Campus Recreation, there is another on-campus yoga option for students. The Stress Free Zone is a new space that opened this past fall located on the third floor of the William Pitt Union. It is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hallie Stotsky, the Stress Free Zone’s coordinator, said they offer open floor space for individuals to practice yoga during the week.

“The Stress Free Zone is open, no appointment necessary, to use any of our relaxation stations, or to practice yoga and meditation on their own in the peaceful open space,” Stotsky said. “In the spring semester, yoga classes will be offered weekly, free to all Pitt students and all mats and props are provided for students. Yoga is really meant for everybody, whether you’re brand new or have been practicing for years.”

Stotsky said the Stress Free Zone provides students with a break from schoolwork, studying and stress and it encourages everyone to give it a try — no matter their skill levels or experience.

“When you spend hours studying but are having a hard time focusing, that’s your body and mind’s way of saying they need a purposeful break. Yoga is the perfect break — it allows your body to move, your mind to reset and energy to be put to good use.” Stotsky said. “Don’t be afraid to be new or bad or imperfect, everyone has to be new at something before they get good at it.”

Stotsky said it is never too late for students to test out a yoga class and increase their body’s flexibility and endurance.

“You would never say ‘I’m not strong so I can’t go to the gym’ — that’s why you should go to the gym. So if you think ‘I’m not flexible, I can’t go yoga’ that’s exactly why you should start. But yoga is so much more than flexibility — it’s even so much more than the physical shapes  — so don’t be afraid to begin,” Stotsky said.

Anna Barbins, a senior exercise science major who also practices and teaches yoga, agreed that the yoga and de-stress opportunities at Pitt are not to be overlooked these last two weeks of the semester.

“Yoga is special because it purposely combines mindfulness, breathing techniques and physical activity. It is important to take a second to at least breathe during finals week and Rec classes are only an hour long and free,” Barbins said. “There are so many different options and the Rec coordinators are always open to new ideas if something is not provided.”

Barbins said practicing mindfulness and getting your body moving is important even to those with a busy finals schedule.

“Even if you don’t have the time to make it to a Rec class, I highly recommend getting some movement in. It does not have to be a full gym session either, there are plenty of Youtube workouts available for free with no equipment,” Barbins said. “Any little bit works, your body and brain will thank you.”