In a famed November 2003 Harvard Crimson article entitled “The Cult of Yale”, Jessica Kung, DC ’03, made the ultimate plug for our beloved university. “Only at Yale,” she said, “can you stand on your head next to your Dean.” Just two months earlier, Jessica and a group of close friends had begun conducting free yoga classes from atop the Women’s Table, aiming to “[make] yoga available and accessible to members of the Yale community,” as Kung told me. Soon after its founding, the project moved inside for the winter and took the name Yogis at Yale (and the aptly effusive acronym, YAY).
YAY was born amid chaos at Payne Whitney Gym: Yalies interested in yoga had to drag their groggy selves out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. to register for classes that sometimes reached nearly 100 students. As Kung tells it, YAY represents a wildly appealing new model. “Off the bat, everyone from all different parts of Yale campus life got involved, whether it was deans, graduate students, undergrads, it didn’t matter…It wasn’t such a formal yoga class, it was more about developing a community.”
Almost a decade later, YAY is still going strong (and as Kung excitedly wrote, they even have a “FANCY” new website). YAY offers 75-minute classes five days a week, all taught by yoga-certified undergraduate and graduate students. The classes range from Ashtanga Yoga to Vinyasa to Sunshine Flow, a class that, according to the YAY website, couples “intensive physical practice with a happy, sunshine-y energy!”
YAY has even extended its repertoire to include social events and social media, such as a “Rolling with the OMies” mixer, and a film screening of Yogawoman, held during the spring semester, as well as a YAY photo shoot in Bass Library that ended with YAY members being chased out by security guards. (“I have been known to do handstands anywhere,” Christina said about the incident.)
The mixed-level clientele poses its own set of challenges for instructors trying to keep in pace with their students’ growth. “I have people who have never done any yoga or really any physical exercise at all,” says Corinne Kentor, TD ’16, who teaches Sunshine Flow every Thursday evening, “and then I have other yoga teachers who come and take my class at the same time.”
When I attended the Wednesday night class taught by YAY President Cristina Poindexter, TD ’13, I was the token beginner–a teetering pretzel of clumsy. Seventy-five minutes later, I left on an exhilarating high; my thoughts were a little less jumbled and heavy, I remembered muscles long forgotten, and my head felt a little bit closer to my feet. I certainly don’t think I’ll be doing headstands next to Dean Fink any time soon, but as for this whole free yoga thing? Yay.