SUNY New Paltz graduate student Monique Dauphin said she has spent the majority of her life practicing and teaching yoga — the art of connecting mind and body through physical, mental and spiritual discipline.
A yoga instructor at Hudson River Yoga in Poughkeepsie since 2009, Dauphin participated in her first class at the age of 13, only to find she was fascinated with understanding her body in peaceful and beautiful ways.
“I’ve been teaching and practicing yoga for quite some time,” Dauphin said. “I started to notice that almost all of my students were white and female, so I started wondering why other groups, like African-Americans, might not be as likely to practice yoga.”
Dauphin said she partakes in the Mental Health Counseling Program, conducted a campus-wide study on the common perceptions of yoga. With a survey containing questions regarding ethnicity and socio-economic status in relation to those who practice yoga, Dauphin said she attempted to better understand the purpose of yoga through most peoples’ eyes.
Before administering the survey, Dauphin said she predicted that ethnicity and socio-economic status would indeed have an effect on whether certain groups practice yoga.
She said the survey received a good response. While only an inkling, Dauphin took note of the fact that many of the participants were white women, and only 14 percent were people of color.
She said the survey pinpointed certain notions Dauphin predicted to be true in regards to peoples’ perceptions of yoga. She said she addressed the ideas that yoga is only for white people, particularly women, that underprivileged people have less time to practice yoga and that yoga is only affordable to the richer half of the population.
Dauphin said yoga was developed in India where people could go to an ashram and study it in exchange for service. During the influx of Indian immigration in the mid-20th century, yoga became increasingly popular in the United States. Since then, yoga has become more and more expensive in the U.S.
Second-year art history major and yoga instructor Jennie Hirsch said yoga is more than just a physical workout. It’s a time when one can learn what the body is capable of doing.
“The gym is great but it’s not for your mind,” Hirsch said. “It’s for finding a place where you’re focused on what exactly it is your body is doing.”
With sights set high, Dauphin said she is planning on using her experience in counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), incorporating this into her teaching.
She said her new class at Hudson River Yoga will be called Mindful Yoga. Beginning May 12, Dauphin intends to teach exploratory yoga techniques for those who have experienced mild to severe trauma as a means of coping.
“The mind cannot process trauma until the body is calm,” Dauphin said.
Mindful Yoga will involve the same poses as a traditional class; however, it will be instructed using invitational language such as “please” and “if you’d like” instead of the active language and demanding tone used in other classes, Dauphin said.
Trauma victims “lose the right to have a choice,” Dauphin said, and so it is important not to be too demanding when teaching a yoga class.
Dauphin said the class’ popularity is directly related to the results of the survey. These preconceived perceptions of yoga block the groups who need it the most. She said that people with a lower socio-economic status tend to experience a disproportionately high amount of trauma and life stressors. These are the people who tend to shy away from yoga and who also could benefit from it the most, she said.
“I’ve begun to learn how to recognize systematic biases,” Dauphin said. “And with more study in the future, I hope to figure out a way to remove the barriers people put between themselves and yoga.”