During this current shelter-in-place order, where your home might be your 24-hour work environment as well, yoga is a therapeutic practice that slows the mind and puts reality into perspective. ML 8801: Building Community: Culture, Identity, Diversity and Inclusion, a graduate course in the new Master of Science Program at the School of Modern Languages, had a refreshing virtual yoga experience with Mrs. Val Peterson last Monday, April 6th, thanks to the creativity of two students in the course, Shaidah Herron and Ci Song, who hosted Mrs. Peterson as a guest speaker for their course project.
Mrs. Peterson is the former first lady of Georgia Tech (2009-2019) and is still a proud yellow jacket today. A fellow global citizen, she got her master’s in Spanish and taught for many years, from K-6 to college-level, before joining the Georgia Tech family. “Whenever I love something, I eventually end up teaching it,” Mrs. Peterson said. Her respect for yoga practice led her to train and begin teaching yoga four years ago, when she started a weekly class at Georgia Tech’s Tenth & Homes Graduate and Family Housing. Herron and Song, both students in the M.S. in Global Media and Cultures, invited Mrs. Peterson to teach an in-class workshop called “Yoga and Mental Health.”
ML 8801: Building Community is a new course taught by Dr. Jenny Strakovsky, assistant director of Graduate Studies and Career Education. The class explores the psychology behind culture and teaches students how to create community and inclusivity in an organization. The course is open to graduate research assistants (GRAs) in Modern Languages, whose GRA program, Culture at Work, provides hands-on experience engaging and improving communities. As GRAs, Song and Herron have spent this year designing mental health programming in the Georgia Tech Department of Housing and the School of Modern Languages, respectively. Herron spearheaded the campus-wide film series Sustainability and Mental Health in Fall 2019, and Song runs a weekly event called Tea Time at Swann, designed to connect different language groups in the School and bridge cultures. Their workshop with Mrs. Peterson explored the mental health benefits of yoga, and how to bring them to the community.
During the virtual class on April 6th, students learned the history and philosophy of ancient yoga, along with the features and benefits of a specific style of yoga, Hatha Vinyasa. Mrs. Peterson specializes in Vinyasa yoga, a flowing practice that teaches one how to move the body in harmony with the breath. Vinyasa helps one to move “in flow,” on and off the mat. Students in the course shared that the practice led by Mrs. Peterson was just the right exercise to relieve some of the stress of this point in the semester.
What Mrs. Peterson has found most surprising during her yoga journey is the cultural differences in how people practice and understand yoga. “You can ask someone about yoga in the U.S., and they will think about poses. If you speak to someone in India about yoga, what pops into their mind is meditation. You do the poses to get the wiggles out, so you can sit on the floor and meditate, and you meditate to get to self-realization, or liberation,” said Mrs. Peterson. That’s why Mrs. Peterson always includes a short period of meditation at the end of the practice. She makes this point to show that yoga can mean very different things in different parts of the world and encouraged students to learn about the cultural differences in yoga practice globally.
Mrs. Peterson reminds us to forgive ourselves and not be scared to give it a try. “You are human, and you are going to mess up! Just keep trying to think of nothing but your breath going in and out for two minutes. If you mess up, start again!”
She recommends Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield, which offers tips for anyone who wants to learn more about meditation, and The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice, by Georg Feuerstein, for some history and philosophy.
Today, we are excited to share Mrs. Peterson’s yoga class with all of you, and to welcome you into the Modern Languages Community for this virtual practice. The yoga practice is one hour long and well worth it! Check it out below!
Mrs. Val Peterson’s Yoga Practice: