By Margaret O’Donnell, Contributing Writer

Students at the University of New Hampshire do not have to venture out of Durham to reap the benefits of yoga, a 5000-year-old practice. University Health Services offers free yoga sessions twice a week in the Wildcat Den while on the other end of Main Street, Campus Recreation offers free group yoga classes every weekday.

Separate from UNH yoga programs, but within walking distance, is 3 Bridges Yoga located in downtown Durham. For Bjorn Turnquist, the owner of 3 Bridges, yoga is the complete package for physical, mental and spiritual wellness. 3 Bridges teaches the vinyasa style of yoga, which is centered on making fluid movements while developing breath to create a smooth rhythm with the body. Within the vinyasa style, the studio offers three levels of classes: beginner, everybody and level two.

According to the American Psychological Association, practicing yoga can improve physical strength, flexibility and lung capacity while reducing heart rate, blood pressure and back pain. Yoga is also proven to provide mental health benefits such as increased social attachments, reducing stress and relieving anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Jonathan Gual, a member of the UNH Outing Club, recently led a group to the summit of Mount Major to do yoga. Gual is one of many UNH students practicing yoga as both a form of exercise and stress management. Although Gual admits yoga is not his favorite form of exercise, he has practiced it for almost six years as a distraction from his demanding studies.

“It’s a very relaxing and uplifting activity that my body craves because of my hectic schedule and lack of time for other healthy activities,” Gual said. The mounting reading, writing and studying accompanied with college is enough to create an immense dose of stress even before work and exercising are added into a daily routine. Yoga is an opportunity to create a workout that includes not only sweat and strength but also mediation and reflection.

Andie Turteltaub, a junior member of the UNH track team, chooses to practice yoga at 3 Bridges because it is an alterative form of exercise.

“I throw on the track team, and I do yoga as a way to restore my body and for the relaxation aspect,” Turteltaub said.

When 3 Bridges first opened its doors two years ago, it offered UNH students and the people of Durham a collective and intimate space to practice yoga. 

“The Durham location is great because it is a nice mix of college students and townspeople, and that is why the community is so vibrant and diverse here,” Turnquist said.

Turnquist owns additional studios in Portsmouth and York, Maine, all of which are focused on vinyasa’s principles of consistency and creativity.

“Vinyasa allows for similar movements but also spontaneity. There is not a set script but there are set principles,” Turnquist said. These principles have not only remained a pastime for yoga practitioners but have also integrated into UNH’s curriculum through the discovery course Stressed Out.

Michelle Blanchette, a 3 Bridges Yoga teacher and lab instructor for Stressed Out, has practiced yoga for 14 years and now teaches it as a stress management tool in eight class sections.

Blanchette notes our culture’s increasing obsession with fast pace is a stress producer, and said research proves yoga is the answer.

According to the Harvard Health Publications, there is evidence linking yoga to increased heart rate variability, which is a body’s positive response to stress. Integrating yoga into a college course is rare, and for Blanchette, it is all the more exciting to be able to expose 170 students to the stress reliving effects of yoga. Whether it is on campus or off, for exercise, pleasure or to relieve stress, UNH’s abundance of yoga has something for everyone.

“Yoga brings you to a place so you can hone into an awareness of self,” Blanchette said. “We are so busy if we don’t take care of stress we will get sick and yoga helps with that by bringing the self present and being in the now.”