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Through a summer course in Tulum, Mexico, USC students learn yoga and mindfulness. It is part of a new minor that aims to help students take control of their health.

Students on the Memester course took a yoga class each morning and afternoon, then spent the evening meditating.  (Photo: Courtesy Isabel Pillier Mazumdar)

Students on the Memester course took a yoga class each morning and afternoon, then spent the evening meditating. (Photo: Courtesy Isabel Pillier Mazumdar)

About 800 years ago, the Maya worshiped the god of honey in the holy city of Tulum, Mexico. The frescoes of Ah-Muzhen-Kab, who dives into the earth like a stingless bee and is known as the “descending deity”, still remain on the walls of a temple there.

The worship of Ah-Muzen-Kab has declined over the past few centuries, but the importance of Tulum as a site of spiritual practice remains. Thousands of people now flock to the area annually to take part in yoga and meditation retreats.

If practicing 5,000-year-old Indian traditions in Mexico sounds a bit unusual, yoga teacher Isabel Pillire Mazumdar says the draw for modern visitors is probably the same reason the ancient Mayans built Tulum, where they Built on the Yucatan Peninsula.

“It’s the special energy of the field,” says Mazumdar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Physical Education and Mind-Body Health in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “We don’t have this belief in Western society, but a lot of cultures do believe in the importance of energy, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese or Maya culture.”

Mazumdar recently led a small group of USC students on a week-long visit to Tulum, where they took yoga lessons, meditated, and explored the region’s history. This is an elective course for the newly launched Mind-Body Studies Minor, which trains students in the fundamentals of good health, from sleep to mindfulness to physical exercise. With rising levels of anxiety and depression, as well as high rates of obesity among college students, this is timely and important research work.

Rise and shine, it’s yoga time

Students (downside) learn dog power > News > USC Dornsife

The new Mind-Body Studies Minor aims to help students cope with stress and stay fit. (Photo: Courtesy Isabel Pillier Mazumdar)

A yoga retreat in Mexico might sound like a relaxing vacation, but Mazumdar’s Memester course had a packed schedule. Each day, the students took two yoga classes, participated in group discussions and settled in for an evening meditation. He also took the time to tour, exploring the ruins of the Maya civilization and the magnificent caves at Gran Cenote.

The students ranged from novices to budding yoga enthusiasts. They ate all their meals together and practiced yoga together in the morning and evening, so the journey was also an exercise in living closely among people of different backgrounds and beliefs. “I had a very diverse group, different races, religions, sexual orientations. It was really cool that they all came together because you’re together 24/7,” says Mazumdar.

mind and body

The New Mind-Body Studies Minor, which launched this fall, covers human anatomy, nutrition, and the brain as well as other elective courses like swimming and hiking. More than 20 students have already enrolled in the minor, which was designed to meet the demand of students to help them manage their stress and health.

The minor also helps students who are planning careers in medicine learn techniques to help people that do not involve prescriptions or surgery; A growing trend in health care.

For Christina Meneri, who is majoring in neuroscience and cognitive science, the new minor connects directly to her career interests. “I look forward to using what I learn from the Mind-Body Studies minor, especially in regards to how we train our brains, to help dementia patients,” Meneri says.

Majumdar may be the poster woman for how yoga can be a lifelong, holistic practice. She first encountered it about 40 years ago, when she was vacationing at a resort hotel in the late 1970s, when yoga was not yet a mainstay at the gym. “Yoga was a little out there, it was experimental,” she says. As a dancer, she was fascinated by the way she stretches and lengthens her body, and she has been practicing the sport ever since.

Mamester course students like Anya Khurana, who is pursuing a degree in public health education and promotion at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, are planning a similar trajectory.

“Yoga and mindfulness practices are great tools for stress management and overall wellness, but this course has taught me how to apply those skills to my life, which I will take with me as I go to professional school and Starting my career,” says Khurana.

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