Overview & President Martha Reid
Now, more than ever, LSE students need avenues to maintain their mental health, fitness, and sense of community at university. With no in-person counseling, sports, or classes taking place, achieving these three goals has become a tall order. However, one society in particular is striving to meet this difficult moment.
Yoga Society, or Yoga Soc for short, has been one of the most active societies during the current academic year. Per Yoga Soc’s weekly schedules, it typically hosts practices twice a week and a weekly meditation session, all on Zoom.
Yoga Soc was founded in 2015, but it died off in the following years. However, it was rebooted in Lent Term, 2020. It is now led by Martha Reid, a third-year International Social and Public Policy student, who took over as President in Michaelmas Term, 2020. She explained her motivation for getting involved:
“I was having a bit of a rough time with my mental health, so I got super into yoga because I found it really helpful, and something to look forward to, and just an hour when I didn’t have to look at my phone.”
Yoga Soc has thrived during COVID, in no small part thanks to Reid, according to several members interviewed. During the lockdown in Michaelmas Term 2020, Reid and the Yoga Soc committee organized virtual events every day for five weeks. According to Reid, there are roughly 110 members at the moment, with an even split of undergraduate and postgraduate students. Between 20 and 30 of them show up to each practice session.
Reid described how Yoga Society aims to tackle some of the personal and psychological struggles LSE students have been experiencing throughout this academic year.
“We have people who DM us, opening up about their complete isolation from people, that they haven’t seen people in weeks, that Yoga Soc is the only time they see people in terms of a social setting all week and that, that actually is fucking heartbreaking. Postgrads who moved to London especially who can’t see their friends, or first years who are 18 and by themselves. It’s really tough and I kind of see Yoga Soc as a bit of a baby of mine, so when the members are struggling I maybe take it a bit personally.”
Reid expanded on the struggles faced by LSE students relating to mental health. She emphasized her lackluster experiences with the mental health services and provisions by the Student Union and LSE more generally.
“The mental health provision at LSE is just not good enough. I think that’s quite a widely held opinion, and it’s this idea that the SU is guilty of it: of hosting mental health workshops where they give you a free coloring book and some packets of green tea and they call it ‘student wellbeing,’” said Reid. “That’s not it, and we are aware that it’s not our role as a society to improve people’s mental health. We’re not qualified to do that, nor is it our place, but I do think we serve a really important role in helping people. It’s a role LSE has been long criticized for not being able to serve.”
Mental Health & Wellbeing
It is clear how important Yoga Soc is to many of its members. Stephanie Glavin, an MSc student studying Health and International Development, described how Yoga Soc helps her maintain her mental and physical health and some structure amidst life in lockdown.
“I find that, especially with things how they are at the minute, with the lockdown, yoga really helps me keep more of a positive mindset. The whole approach of connecting with your breath, connecting with your body, doing what feels good,” said Glavin. “I think in lockdown, when you’re spending all day every day in the same place and it’s the same place where you chill, work, eat, it’s very hard sometimes to get that headspace.”
Carola Ducco, a first-year student studying International Relations and Chinese, added how Yoga Society events help structure her days and give her time to reflect on herself.
“The activity of yoga itself helps you get out of your shell and your never-ending work,” said Ducco. “I think that with being at home, it’s a lot harder to have a routine, and if you get these moments in which you can actually stop for a moment and stop thinking about your work, you can be more mindful and have a bit of insight into how you are doing.”
Events & Community
Ducco spoke about the varied activities Yoga Society offers its members, including the weekly meditation sessions: “One of the cool things for me is that we don’t only do yoga. Once a week, we have a meditation session, which is really helpful, and usually we have a nighttime meditation, which is really cool because before bed, you actually get to relax and just zone out a little bit. We usually do it halfway through the week, so that you kind of take away the stresses you’ve had in the first half, and you can recharge a little bit for the rest of the week.”
Saskia Soden, a first-year Politics, Philosophy, and Economics student, shared a similar experience with the meditation sessions: “I really like the evening meditation sessions because it’s before bed, you’re winding down, and if you struggle with sleeping it’s probably one of the best things you can do, just to try to bring awareness back to your body, bring awareness back to your thoughts, and calm it down a bit.”
Soden also expressed how Yoga Soc forges a sense of community among its members, an achievement not so easily replicated throughout LSE. She remarked: “When I did yoga before there wasn’t really any community at all, which is why it differs from just going to a club or class. There is that community aspect that I didn’t have before, and I think it has encouraged me to participate in the classes more often.”
Hannah Braidwood, a second-year management student, is also part of the Freedom of Mind campaign and the LSE Mental Health Collective, which aims to create conversations about mental health through events and lobbies LSE for better mental health support. She reflected on how Yoga Society has been a primary source of her mental wellness.
“It’s a really wholesome community, and it offers a lot of support. Through the work I do with the mental health stuff at LSE, it just really aligned nicely and gave me a sense of community this January, because it’s pretty tough otherwise,” said Braidwood. “Having it structured in your week that there’s three times a week where someone’s offering a class, you can’t put it off and do it later because it’s not recorded, so for your own sanity, it’s also good.”
Braidwood is doing her studies this term from her home in Scotland, and stressed the human connections that Yoga Society offers. “With the committee and all the members, there is a genuine sense of care and they’re really proactive and looking to tailor it for their members,” said Braidwood. “They’re very aware of the challenges COVID has brought up.”
Margarida Rosas Almeida, a first-year International Social and Public Policy and Economics student, is studying this term from her home in Portugal. She is also 26 years old, and thus older than most of her undergraduate peers. Despite these facts, she highlighted the centrality of Yoga Society in providing her with community while a student at LSE.
“Yoga Society has been the place where I have felt most part of LSE during my short time as a student. It has been nice to get to know postgraduate students, who are closer to my age,” Rosas Almeida said. “In regular classes you get to speak to your colleagues, but more about things like the readings. Yoga gives you the space to build more meaningful connections and get to know people at a different level.”
Self-Care and Overcoming Social Stigmas
Dan Lawes, a second-year International Relations and History student, is part of a relatively small male minority in Yoga Soc. He opened up about his initial reluctance to join due to the gender disparity.
“As a guy coming to it, I’m not going to lie – it was a bit nerve-wracking signing up, as it’s overwhelmingly girls, and I think there are four or five lads who are regulars there, which is brilliant,” Lawes said. “There seems to be a big disparity there between male athletes who are all doing yoga, and then young males who think it isn’t an appropriate thing to do.”
Lawes also acknowledged the particular importance of yoga in this moment, considering physical separation and mental health concerns. He remarked: “During this time, it’s so important to acknowledge the need for self-care, and I really respect the fact that people are doing it, because it shows that they’re taking their self-care seriously. In a time like this, that’s so important.”
Lawes raved about the work Reid has done for Yoga Society. He is also the President of the History Society, and he described how this experience informs his understanding of Reid’s work with Yoga Society.
“What Martha and her team have done this year for yoga society is incredible. I feel like they’re single-handedly responsible for student satisfaction not plummeting this year because what they have done for welfare is so impressive, and I think it does need highlighting,” Lawes said. “As a society president myself, I know the effort that needs to be put in to achieve something like this. As a student it’s easy to ask why a society isn’t doing more, but from a president’s point of view, I look at it and I go, ‘that takes a lot of effort.’”
Unexpected Benefits and New Lockdown Routines
Rosas Almeida also opened up about how her experience with yoga has afforded her serious health benefits. “About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic condition that significantly impacts my stress levels,” Rosas Almeida said. “With yoga, for the first time, I felt like I got a handle on this new diagnosis. It has given me some tools that I think I will incorporate for the rest of my life.”
Rosas Almeida spoke more broadly about yoga as an organizing force in her life, and one that holds her to account: “Ever since I joined, I start every morning with a short yoga practice, even if there is no yoga society meeting. I just open up YouTube and do ten minutes of a yoga session,” Rosas Almeida said. “In the short term, I feel like my days are much more productive and it’s a much better start to my day. I’ve become much more of a morning person because of that. In the long term, I feel like I’ve felt much more in control of my health.”
Rosas Almeida also described how her condition has impacted her exam periods in recent years, but also how yoga has helped improve this: “All of my exam sessions have been hard to manage. My symptoms have made it difficult for me to get into exam sessions, but during this exam session, it was much easier to manage, having incorporated yoga into my life.”
According to Reid, on Monday, March 8 from 5 to 6 pm, Yoga Soc will collaborate with the Hindu Society and the Faith Network on an event. This will include a presentation by the Hindu Society on the origins and history of yoga, and a discussion afterwards. Yoga Soc will then lead a 30-minute yoga session.
Reid hopes that the event will allow members and those interested in yoga to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the roots of yoga and more deeply connect with the spiritual messages taught in Yoga Soc classes.
In the coming weeks, Yoga Soc will also co-host two meditation sessions with Freedom of Mind London and the LSE Mental Health Collective. The first will take place on March 1st at 5 pm, and the second will be on March 12th at 9 am. Both will take place on Zoom.
To learn more about the society or join up, Yoga Soc’s SU page can be accessed here. Yoga Soc is on Instagram and Facebook, and has an active Whatsapp group where all are free to get in touch about upcoming classes, connect with the society, or simply learn more general wellbeing tips.