Divya Siddarth: India

In the two weeks she spent at a yoga university in Bangalore, India, Divya Siddarth’s ’14 typical day started at 5 a.m. and consisted of hours of practicing yoga, chanting and meditating.

She took this trip as a recipient of the Gunter-Gross Asia Initiative Summer Fellowship.

Siddarth became interested in visiting Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, the only accredited yoga university in the world, when she came across some articles it had published on yoga while doing research.

She had been working on a study about the mental and physical benefits of yoga and tai-chi, which was published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry the spring before her trip.

“[The institute] sounded like kind of an oasis — I wanted to see it,” Siddarth said. “And so when I heard about the fellowship, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

Siddarth first became involved with yoga mainly because she thought it would help her with dance, she said.

Eventually, though, she began to appreciate yoga for a different reason.

“I realized the incredible mental benefits of it; I found myself calmer, I could concentrate more and when I was upset, if I meditated or did yoga, it always helped,” Siddarth said.

While at the university, Siddarth was able to focus more on the mental and spiritual side of yoga than on the physical aspect she said Westerners tend to emphasize.

“It’s incredible how difficult it can be to try to clear your mind and not be involved with your thoughts,” Siddarth said. “The amount of struggle I had with that was a little unexpected, and also the incredible feeling when you do get it, when you get to that state of bliss and contentment. That was something I had hoped for, but I hadn’t really expected it to turn into a reality.”

Siddarth originally had a hard time practicing yoga and meditation daily, she said, but now that she’s back, she has been more inspired to make them a habit.

She intends to discuss what she learned over the summer with the yoga teachers back at school to see if they could incorporate some of it into the classes they teach.

“That’s the point they’re making at the institute — it’s bringing yoga to a wider community, to validate the reasoning behind it, so people know that it’s not just some random thing, it actually has scientifically significant effects,” Siddarth said.

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