My Yoga Experience
I started my Sunday morning doing yoga in Harnwell’s rooftop lounge with teachers Karen Zhao and Tai Bendit of Be Here Yoga. It was my very first time doing yoga here at Penn, and when I first walked into the room, the sun shone so brightly through the large window glass panes that I felt transported into a different world.
The session began with a brief meditation guided by Tai who told us to close our eyes and focus on breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Then, Karen took over and started guiding us through sun salutations to warm up our bodies.
Downward facing dog. Hover. Jump. Hands up. Stretch back. Feel your fingers. And repeat– or something like that. I probably don’t have the sequence exactly correct as I recall right now, and I’m probably missing a pose or two, but I can still recall how I felt exactly– calm and liberated. Throughout the session, my mind was soothed by the soulful music playing quietly in the background, and every time I reached up to stretch my arms, extend my spine, and bend my back slightly backwards, I felt liberated from all the chaos and fuss in the world.
Occasionally, however, I would catch myself looking around just to see how others were doing, especially when we were introduced to more challenging poses like the triangle super-twists. But everyone seemed so focused and determined in their own poses that I was led to refocus my attention on my own, and throughout class, I have learned to channel my energy towards my own movements, to listen to my own heartbeat, and to push myself a little bit more and extend or hold a little bit longer than I could before. This is, perhaps, why people find yoga so powerful and restorative.
The power of yoga exists in the movements, and you can feel it both physically and emotionally. As I concentrated my body and mind on the practice, I felt that it has helped me transform my everyday narrative of struggles into a narrative of strength, and echoing what Karen would repeat throughout the session, “Nothing is permanent. Breathe in the posture.”
It has truly been a wonderful experience doing yoga with a group. The positive community that it creates helps me get back on track when I got lost, and I surely left the yoga session feeling more “empowered, refreshed, and connected”– exactly how Karen would like people to feel afterwards.
Be Here Yoga at Penn
Be Here Yoga was co-founded last year by sophomore Karen Zhao and junior Natalia Chadee. Since then, the group has expanded. In addition to the regular yoga and meditation sessions that Karen and her team runs every week, they also host yoga for college houses and student groups on campus. “The community has really come together and people have started to realize the value of taking time for themselves,” said Karen.
Karen started doing yoga during her senior year of high school. Initially, she was just looking for ways to exercise, de-stress and support her mom who was doing her yoga training. She has always found the experience to be very positive and has since become more interested in meditation and mindfulness living.
As she entered college during her freshman year, she often found herself doing yoga by herself. “All I remember is that I’d practice by myself in the Quad and feel like I was the only one who was into it,” she said. “Yoga has benefited me in so many ways, and I felt like it could connect me to many people.”
Fortunately, she met Natalia at a mental wellness event last year, and shortly after, they founded Be Here Yoga to empower and connect like-minded people.
“Something that we are missing in the school environment is a sense of authentic community [with] people who we can reflect and grow within our journey to be more empowered as people,” Karen said. “I think the community we’ve created is very supportive of people and encourages them to be who they are and have conversations about what really matters to them and where they are in their lives.”
Karen and Natalia’s organization has certainly drawn like-minded individuals like Tai Bendit, currently a junior at Wharton, who started out just as a participant of Be Here Yoga but has now joined the teaching team and led the weekly Meditation sessions on Fridays. “The amazing founding team provided a vision for the whole group,” he said. “It’s really cool to work with Karen and everyone else…I get inspired by being with them, and I personally feel like I get so much out of it by being part of the teaching team and leading meditations, candlelight yoga, and things like that.”
With all the craziness of finding a decent job or internship over the summer these days, Karen and Tai offered a different outlook. The advice, “Just do what you love,” although cliched, rings true for both of them. During her freshman summer, Karen spent her time studying Sanskrit and yoga philosophy at New York ashram with her 88-year-old Indian philosophy professor from Spring semester. Throughout her time there, she lived at the training center and learnt Sanskrit and how to make authentic Indian chai tea. As for Tai, he volunteered through Penn’s IIP program in Guatemala where he recalls spending about an hour meditating before a volcano almost every morning.
“[As] we try to fill our lives with meetings and people, our sense of worth is build upon how many things we can accumulate or accomplish,” said Karen. “But true abundance is more about tuning into all that we already have and are. Abundance lies in appreciating silent, still moments. I think that the person who lives in abundance is the person who doesn’t ask for anything more than what they already have.”
So as you navigate your second semester, I encourage you to reflect upon Karen’s words and think about the things that really matter to you. Do not lose yourself, spread yourself thin, or scramble to do so much that cause you to deviate from your values. Listen to your own mind and heart beat and breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
Karen and Tai’s Tips to live Mindfully:
- Read a good book and read about other people’s experiences about yoga and mindfulness.
- Check out meditation apps and podcasts online.
- Set yourself a time for meditation/yoga.
- Join a group session and come to Be Here Yoga’s free weekly yoga and meditation sessions! Check out the website here, and the schedule below: