Silly students, yoga is for teachers

Warren Allen
Photo by Aaron Newton
Warren Allen started the faculty and staff only class eight years ago at Western Oregon University. Since then the class has grown to an average of 20 students from various on-campus departments. Students praise his unintimidating approach to the class and its welcoming atmosphere.

MONMOUTH — When faced with a long day of working with college students, feeling refreshed and calm can go a long way to keeping your sanity.

That’s why for the last eight years, Warren Allen has instructed a yoga class exclusively for faculty and staff at Western Oregon University.

Allen, a student of yoga and various martial arts styles for 44 years, started the class at Western in 2005, five years after he came to the university, as a way for faculty and staff to be active.

“At the request of Dean (Linda) Roselli (then dean of the College of Education), we continued offering the morning session. It just took off,” Allen said. “Part of the challenge of getting people participating was coordinating people together.”

Western offers a plethora of other yoga classes, all open to students, but this is the only class where faculty and staff can escape the self-consciousness and awkwardness sometimes associated with exercising around students.

The 8 a.m. class on Mondays and Wednesdays also tailors to a specific audience, said Sharon Oberst, head of the theater and dance department.

For Oberst and the rest of the 20- to 25-person “tribe,” the early morning class suits their lifestyle as well as getting them in the right mindset for the day.

“When you leave, you’re feeling calm and ready to go face the day,” Oberst said. “Some people would much rather do it in the morning, some people want to do it at the end of the day. I’m not a big end-of-the-day person. I have more energy in the morning.”

The class has shifted around the university since its inception.

Formerly held in the New Physical Education building and dance studios, the class now meets in room 201 of the Health and Wellness Center.

Up until this term, the class was under the jurisdiction of the division of extended programs.

Now, the class is under the Health and Wellness Center umbrella, which lends itself to a more appropriate designation and newer facilities.

“For those with a health and wellness membership, they can just walk in … it’s not something extra,” Allen said.

The class makeup is just as diverse as the university itself: A few department heads, numerous faculty from multiple departments, retired staff and faculty, men and women.

Since joining the class six years ago, art professor Becca McCannell has seen myriad benefits beyond stress relief.

McCannell had a herniated disc in her back around 12 years ago; even after surgery, she couldn’t shake the pain and restricted movement.

“I’ve been working really hard to build my core strength to support my back,” McCannell said. “I also wanted a way to improve flexibility and balance. I think Warren’s class has a good balance between making it challenging but not making it a contest.”

Though numbers have continually grown in its eight years, the same eight to 10 person core has remained the same.

With the new class members comes inexperience, but, Oberst says, there are no egos; everyone is on the same plane.

“We’re not department heads and we’re not professors and we’re not staff, we’re just friends doing yoga in the community,” Oberst said. “When we come in there we change our mindset. It’s been intimate since the day I stepped in.”

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