Art and exercise meet at Fisher Museum

Divya Choudhary, a graduate student and International Ashtanga Yoga instructor, believes in the restorative benefits of yoga and art immersion. (Aarohi Sheth | Daily Trojan)

Inhale, exhale. 

Students who seek to find balance with their academics, job applications, work, sleep, exercise and social events can find a different kind of inner peace at the USC Fisher Museum of Art. With artwork that spans from the 16th century to the present, students can stretch their muscles and calm their minds surrounded by the museum’s collection. 

In partnership with USC Recreational Sports, the Fisher Museum hosts one-hour yoga sessions every Thursday at 10 a.m. All students, staff and faculty are welcome to practice yoga within the 80-year-old walls of the building. 

Brigid Harmon, the museum’s communications and marketing coordinator, hopes that the free event will incentivize students to not only practice yoga but also appreciate the intriguing artwork.

“We want people to go to the museum and see the art,” Harmon said. “We really want to create events for students to feel like the museum is theirs … It’s the University’s museum, and we want to get people who are on campus into the space.” 

Divya Choudhary, a graduate student studying computer science and an international Ashtanga Yoga-certified instructor, has done just that. Choudhary’s Ashtanga Yoga certification means she has not only mastered the poses of yoga, but she has also learned how to connect her mind and body together within the practice. Ashtanga translates to “eight-limbed yoga” in Sanskrit, and the certification process is rigorous as students must follow postures in specific sequences. But the hard work paid off, as Choudhary said she has learned to connect her body and mind together. 

“I started doing yoga in my childhood, unaware that it was yoga. I used to do Ashtanga poses not knowing that they are Ashtanga,” Choudhary said. “As I grew up I became more and more involved. There was a lot of stress that was coming up because of the responsibilities I was taking … [which] took me to the meditation side of yoga, and I tried it and really loved it.”

Choudhary has been teaching the class at the Fisher Museum since Spring 2019 and recommends students try it as a way to relax in the morning before their classes. Additionally, the spaciousness of the museum provides participants with a special yoga experience, she said. 

“The museum is huge so it gives a lot of room for the participants and also being surrounded by the artwork while you’re doing yoga is very grounding in a way,” Choudhary said. “[It] gives you a better feeling of being present.” 

The combination of artwork within the museum and calming yoga postures provides students with an alternative workout experience. 

Stanley Davis, a graduate student studying astronautical engineering, is a regular Fisher yoga class attendee. As a former track athlete, Davis said he appreciates Choudhary’s willingness to engage with all people interested in the discipline, regardless of their experience level, and loves to stretch his muscles before starting his day. The class is less of a formal workout and more of an immersive art, body and mind experience, he said. 

(From left to right) Participants Ryan George, Stanley Davis and Gegham Mughnetsyan follow Divya Choudhary in performing a traditional Ashntaga Yoga pose Thursday morning at the USC Fisher Museum. (Aarohi Sheth | Daily Trojan)

“I like the atmosphere because it’s different when you’re at a museum,” Davis said. “It feels like less of a workout…  It’s good for your body and I’ve been realizing more and more it’s good for your mental health, so I would always recommend [the class].”

In a similar vein, Harmon encourages all members of the USC community to take a class to relax, exercise and appreciate the artwork. Taking the time for introspection in a quiet and comfortable environment is essential for busy college students.

“We have this space and we have this beautiful art, and we’re really looking to provide people who come to yoga with a sedating experience that involves people doing yoga … in a situation that’s calming, that’s quiet,” Harmon said. “Even if you’re not paying attention to what the art looks like, it’s a space that probably feels good to be around. So that’s why we are trying to have these meditative wellness moments for the people on campus.” 

Due to the openness, free structure and minimal commitment required to attend the classes, Harmon said  yoga at Fisher can accommodate many different schedules, . Because of this, the event attracts many different people — faculty and students alike. 

“It’s a nice environment, a nice place to exercise and recharge,” Davis said. “The instructor is very inclusive and she will help you advance at whatever level you’re at. You’re getting the workout from the gym without going to the gym.” 

Although the artistic atmosphere shifts based on every new exhibition in the museum, the event’s concept remains the same — to cultivate a calming relationship between yoga, art, exercise and mindfulness. USC community members can attend with varying levels of proficiency in yoga and solely concentrate on their physical and mental health while enjoying the artistic atmosphere within the museum, according to Harmon.