Yoga for the novice…Doc Student by Domonic Rollins


Domonic Rollins is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland in the Higher Education, Student Affairs, and International Education Policy program. His research focuses on issues of professional socialization, social justice training in student affairs, and pathways to senior leadership for student affairs professionals of color. Before starting his doctoral degree he served as an Assistant Dean of Students in the Dean of Students Office at DePaul University. Domonic has also served as a Resident Director in the Department of Residence Life at Loyola University Chicago. Passion areas for Domonic include diversity, social justice, organizational dynamics, and supervision. Domonic earned his M.Ed. in Higher Education Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont. Outside of professional commitments, Domonic strives to lead an integrated life with an emphasis on modeling wellness for others, and doing wellness for self.


During my graduate program orientation, I remember one of my faculty members sharing a useful metaphor for the start of the doctoral experience: “Stay on your mat.” It was a yoga reference. She went on to describe how graduate education is like yoga. While everyone is in the same room, seemingly doing the same thing, people are inevitably able to do each pose differently. And, if you spend too much time paying attention to how other people are doing their doctoral experience, or in this case doing their yoga poses, you will lose focus on your experience. Simply, stay on your own mat.

Recently, I purchased a Living Social Deal for yoga – 12 sessions for $12 at a studio across from the U Street Metro station in D.C. To myself I thought: “This is a great deal for me to try yoga.” Having only been to three sessions so far, my professor’s advice is coming alive in a way I didn’t anticipate. During my first session, I struggled with the downward dog position – I couldn’t hold the pose for the five breathes that I needed to. My second session included a shoulder role that I was able to do well. And my third session kicked my butt – I think there was too much time between sessions, and I was out of rhythm.

At each session, I would look to the instructor and other participants for guidance on poses with which I was unfamiliar. Often, I noticed some people completing poses with great ease. They exuded yoga flow. While I knew I was new, I still wanted to be successful and do yoga well.

Often, comparing ourselves to others is not helpful or productive. When we compare ourselves to others, we resolve with one of two outcomes: “Wow, I’m better than that person. I feel great about myself.” Or “Wow, that person is way better than I am. I feel horrible about myself.” Each of these resolutions is problematic. The former boosts our confidence at someone else’s expense, and the latter leaves us feeling defeated and unworthy. Unfortunately, simple comparisons reduces complex processes – like yoga or graduate school – to simple representations or markers and removes nuance.

In yoga poses, people can go deep, stretch far, or focus differently. All of which takes practice overtime. As an onlooker, you notice the result of practice. Also, people enter a yoga practice with skills from previous experiences that can be helpful. I am certain the former ballet dancer does yoga differently from the former basketball player. As an onlooker, you have no idea how that person engaged before beginning their yoga practice.

Graduate school is similar to yoga; some students have experienced “grad school poses” before. These students are seasoned at writing literature reviews, identifying research questions, and writing for publications. As a novice to each of these graduate school exercises, you struggle with setting your base, making the right extension, or focusing your breathing and energy correctly. While it is helpful to look to others to ensure that you have the right form or that you do the next pose in a sequence, paying too much attention to another yogi or graduate student will make concentrating on your own progress difficult.

Simply, there is a deep need to “stay on your mat.” The community of yogis and graduate students are helpful for guidance, support, and structure, however, too much reliance or comparison can be hurtful to your own progress. It’s difficult not to compare, because one is always searching for markers of success; we feel compelled to have a measuring stick for every experience. Graduate school requires one to get rid of this compulsion. Now (and forever more), your measuring stick is YOU, and what you want to get out of the experience is YOURS. Use graduate school or yoga as a space for individual goals with community support. Framing it that way ensures that you get what you need while carving out your own path.

One comment to Yoga for the novice…Doc Student by Domonic Rollins

  • Dafina-Lazarus Stewart  says:

    Dominic, this is an EXCELLENT post. Advice well worth sharing! Thank you for your insights.

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