During the last weeks of any semester, I have a documented history of replacing my crucial habits of sleeping, eating and showering with a steady diet of studying, studying and more studying. My communication with any other living being is limited, leaving me largely at odds with Duke’s flourishing social scene. In an effort to combat these patterns of time, I made the executive decision to dedicate one hour every day of the last week of classes to a mindful activity—a decision I retroactively dub as my “Inopportune Week of Wellness.”
Looking back on that week, I can now assert that the inapt timing was actually a critical reason as to why that week was as restorative and enlightening as it was. Making the conscious choice to carve out me-time—whether it be through mediums like art or meditation—from my backlog of assignments enabled me to recognize the importance of prioritizing one’s health in the midst of academic hustle culture. I’ve come to see that the moments where we feel most inclined to sacrifice our wellbeing, with finals week and assignment-heavy days coming to mind, are the moments where we need to stop and take the time to connect with ourselves. At least, that’s the lesson I can take away from that “Inopportune Week of Wellness.”
I attended my first ever yoga session at Duke to kick off my makeshift experiment.
I walked into Room 144 as the antithesis of a yogi. My shoulders were hunched forward in a heart-protective position as I bore the stresses of the minutes before I entered through the door: overthinking how badly my feet were going to smell, wondering if I could afford fifty minutes of stretching when finals are on the horizon and getting lost in the bizarre design of the Wellness Center. Admittedly, my initial prospects were rather cynical, a fact especially contributed to by the awkwardness of being one of two participants in the session.
In a twist ending, I ended my Shavasana pose with the conclusion that I would be regularly attending yoga sessions in the next semester. The weight that I had been carrying in my body’s tissues seemed to have dissipated with my final downward-facing dog. The fixation on my workload at least temporarily shifted to a fixation on how deep my stretch was. The appreciation for my wellness-based week sprouted.
Room 144, despite sporting a new ensemble of tables, chairs and art supplies for its meditative art activity, bore the same allure on Tuesday as it did the day prior. That is, it hosted under five participants, continued to be nestled in an obscure corner of the Wellness Center (seriously, why would a room dedicated to wellness activities be placed in the dental wing?) and stood in the way of precious minutes I could have spent studying for my Evolutionary Anthropology midterm. However, one could also say that this sense of déjà vu contributed to the similar endings of the first two wellness-centered days: an ending where I feel satisfied and self-reflective.
I would be lying if I said that there weren’t moments where I wondered if I should leave early, discouraged from how much poorer my drawing seemed to be in comparison to my neighbor’s work. Yet, maybe it was the instructor’s meditative guidance or the soothing process of repeatedly outlining flowers, but I bought into the activity’s purpose by the end. My final product featured a garden of thankfulness with a flower flexing its “arms” positioned at the top of the page. If I were any more sentimental, I might claim that it was analogous to my growing recognition of my personal strength.
I suppose all expositions have their highs and lows, and my “Inopportune Week of Wellness” was no exception. The Ruby Arts Center’s Winter Wonderland was supposed to be an outing to sate my holiday desires, but it left me feeling more like the Grinch (or better yet, his quivering dog Max).
The catalyst of my discord wasn’t the event itself. Rather, this winter wonderland was the perfect recipe for festive cheer: shirt printing, free Insomnia cookies and loads of arts and crafts. I certainly felt pleasure when making my Kwanza cup and snowman heating pad, but that pleasure quickly turned astray as I became surrounded by numerous friend groups around me. The trickles of laughter and conversation served as echoing reminders of how lonely I was (despite making the active effort to define this event as “me-time”); I couldn’t help but assume that everyone was ridiculing my solitary presence that awkwardly floundered from room to room. I left after thirty minutes, feeling like a bumbling, outcast oaf as I struggled to carry all of my crafts on the C1 to West.
To recuperate from my overreaction to the events of the day prior, I decided to steer clear of Duke’s wellness activities for at least 24 hours. To be frank, I could have admitted defeat in my endeavor by that point. The odds were certainly stacked against me, with a midterm that afternoon, a doctor’s appointment in the morning and the aftermath of an anxiety attack. I’m not quite sure what motivated me to continue this week, but I can confidently say that my choice to implement a 30-minute stroll through Duke Gardens was a step in the right direction towards prioritizing my own wellness and constructing a definition of self-love that is personal to me. If I may be so bold, I’m almost certain that the 60-degree North Carolina weather was welcoming my health-conscious decision.
There was no better way to end my “Inopportune Week of Wellness” than watching a spectacle reminiscent of pure childhood joy. The excerpts from The Nutcracker performed by Devils en Pointe gave me the opportunity to reflect on my week and state of being while watching brilliantly performed scenes from the Land of Sweets. In a way, I was Clara discovering my own world: a world of prioritizing one’s mental health in the midst of occupational and academic pressure. I left Reynolds Industries Theater with more than just the urge to reenact the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the comfort of my own dorm—I left with an improved sense of self-worth and a desire to recommend a week of wellness to any Duke student regardless of their workload.
Viktoria Wulff-Andersen is a Trinity first year. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.
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