Stretching, body posture and mindfulness are things City College wrestling coach Marques Gales urges his students to consider in his yoga classes this semester.
Gales is teaching yoga classes, but not from the Life and Center at City College—from the comfort of his own home.
This semester, Gales teaches four remote yoga sections both synchronously through Zoom and asynchronously in Fitness 390 and Fitness 392.
According to Dean of Athletics Mitch Campbell, City College had to cancel some of its most popular on-ground kinesiology classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Campus closures caused the cancellation of the Life Fitness Center courses and weight lifting classes at Hughes Stadium.
Even though he’s teaching from home, Gales said the yoga classes are similar to what he does in person, though Fitness 390 is more of an introductory course. The classes explore the chakra system and the language between the physical body and spirituality.
“Teaching yoga and teaching two completely different ways is a challenge, but it’s exciting at the same time,” said Gales. “I record videos of myself and have the class watch the videos on their own time and complete the sections, follow along with my instructions, and then write a summary of their session. It’s pretty interesting.”
Gales, in his second year of yoga instruction, has been practicing yoga on his own for 12 years and says he uses some of the techniques he’s learned to instruct his student-athletes. He said he felt “completely comfortable” demonstrating yoga because at the time he had been practicing for some time and had already considered becoming a certified instructor.
“As a wrestling coach, I use yoga techniques in wrestling practices,” said Gales. “We had yoga in some of these workouts. Some of these stretches and exercises we did in our practices. Our strength and conditioning and mobility sessions were yoga-based.”
According to Gales, mindfulness, posture awareness and breathing techniques are essential parts of yoga.
“Proper breathing and mindfulness are the two most important things, I would say—keeping your mind focused on the present moment, whether it’s going for poses, going for breathing exercises,” Gales added.
“Depression is usually linked with having your mind [on] negative things in the past,” said Gales. “Anxiety is kind of linked with having your mind trapped in negative aspects of the future. [Yoga helps] to counteract that or to balance that out, keeping your mind focused on the present, and actually promote mindfulness and alleviate some anxiety and depression-related stress.”
He stresses to his students that yoga techniques can be used outside class, too.
“Everything is transferred over to life, so [I check] in with them and [give] them assignments that are related to observing how these techniques are transferred over to life,” said Gales. “Some of the assignments will be to have them observe times in their day where they’re stressed out and what their breathing was doing during those times.”
One of the challenges of teaching yoga asynchronously, according to Gales, is that he can’t be sure if students are maintaining focus while viewing his pre-recorded lessons. Giving feedback while teaching on Zoom is also difficult because he can’t see everyone clearly.
“When you’re in a studio or a yoga class, you can see everybody clearer,” said Gales. “You can see if they’re doing the poses correctly or incorrectly, but you have a better vision of their entire body. When you’re teaching on Zoom, you just see the tiny rectangles, and you can’t always tell they’re correct body positions unless you’re stopping what you’re doing and looking very closely.”
Still, Gales’ yoga students are enthusiastic about his classes. Shawnta Corbett, criminal justice major, said she’s done nothing but brag about how exciting the basic yoga class has been since she started. She said this is her first time taking yoga, and she doesn’t feel challenged by learning remotely.
“I would just say if you haven’t tried yoga, I would definitely give it a shot,” said Corbett. “I knew yoga was kind of for the mind, body and soul, kind of more of relaxation and fitness at the same time. I’ve never done yoga in person, so with it being online, I don’t know what much more of a difference it would make doing it in person just because online it seems so smooth, calm and collected.”
Cami Pullen, a nursing major, is taking her first yoga class this semester and said she wouldn’t have taken the course if Gales wasn’t teaching it. Pullen was enrolled in Gales’ kickboxing class last semester and said he was an amazing instructor because of his adaptiveness and understanding.
“I would say hands down, I would recommend [taking basic yoga] with Marques,” said Pullen. “I have a back injury, so when I took his class last semester—kickboxing—he was able to modify it with my back injury. Same with yoga. So he’ll tell me if you can’t do this, that’s OK, do this. It’s less stress on that and you work up into the basic yoga routine.”
Gales started doing yoga as a requirement for his kinesiology degree when he was a student at San Francisco State. As a student-athlete, he found that yoga helped his flexibility; he became more aware of his breathing and posture. He never thought that 10 years later, he’d be teaching it.
“At the time, if you would’ve told me [in] summer 2008 when I took the class that I would be a yoga instructor, I’d probably laugh at you,” said Gales. “I never thought that was something I would pursue as a career, but I would say that it’s a benefit for everybody, even if it’s something as simple as understanding how your breathing works.”
And the meditative aspect of yoga is important, too, Gales stressed.
“I think meditation is something that is a little misunderstood, and there’s a lot of scientific evidence that shows that meditation can actually be better than medication.”
According to Gales, yoga is an entry into learning about how body, mind and spirit work together.
“I think yoga is for everybody. You come as you are and every pose, every position has its modifications,” Gales said. “If you’re not the most flexible person, if your body is not fully taking it, then fine, there’s always room for improvement.”