The students in the half-lit multipurpose room are quiet as they focus their mind and body, listening to the instructor and taking in the folksy-alternative music in the background. Only a few times will people giggle at themselves when a pose is too hard to replicate—either not attempting at all or toppling to the matted floor while trying to balance or stretch a little farther.
Marissa Hight smiles at her yoga class.
“Just allow yourself to relax, to breathe,” she says. Her brown hair is pulled back into a low, loose bun, as she moves gracefully in her purple athletic top and black yoga pants. Hight is poised like a ballerina and instructs the class with a voice like Bob Ross – calming, soft and clear.
The 21-year-old college senior started teaching yoga at the Elmen Center three years ago. Now she’s in charge of all group fitness classes at the Elmen and teaches yoga each Monday at 7:30 p.m.
Carmen Hecht, the senior assistant director of the Elmen Center, said that she has seen Hight grow as a leader throughout the years.
“I remember her being quiet and reserved,” Hecht said. “She’s really just come out of her shell. Now she’s teaching and mentoring and leading other people.”
120 different students have attended Hight’s yoga class during the 2018 fall semester, and Hecht attributes the success to Hight.
“Marissa does an outstanding job—her class, specifically, has done extremely well,” Hecht said. “People see her as someone who is authentic and cares about them. What’s been really fun and exciting to see is that she’s been able to convince football players to come. That’s a credit to Marissa inviting, including [and] talking to [football players].”
Hight said that she invites football players to do yoga in their offseason during the second semester.
“[I invited] the entire offensive and defensive line to come in the spring,” Hight said. “It makes them better athletes—they’re more flexible.”
Hight often sees real, tangible improvement in her attendees, which she says is one of the most fulfilling parts of teaching yoga.
“I’ve had people who have touched their toes for the first time in class,” Hight said. “That’s definitely something I get out of it. I appreciate when they reach milestones like that.”
Alex van Gerrevink is a basketball player who frequents Hight’s yoga class. Hight invited him at the beginning of the semester, and now he and his friends attend almost every week.
“She asked us to come participate,” van Gerrevink said. “It was fun. I like that she doesn’t expect us to know everything, she walks you through it. [I learned] how to be more mindful with your body and your breathing. It’s actually a really good de-stressor, and I’m much more flexible.”
Skylar Ross, a sophomore at Augustana, has been doing yoga for years and found Hight’s class easy to follow.
“It’s a great place to go and relax,” Ross said. “I always leave yoga feeling less stressed. Something I really like in Marissa’s class is that she keeps it the same every week. It’s really nice for people who have been in yoga or are just starting because she makes it really easy to follow along. [People] can tell that they’re making progress.”
Hight’s yoga journey began back in Spearfish, South Dakota, where she grew up with her mom, dad, sister and brother.
“I’ve been a ballet dancer for 13 years,” Hight said. “A lot of times in ballet we would use yoga poses to warm up or stretch. I stopped doing ballet when I graduated, and yoga just sort of took over from there.”
She and her mom attended a few yoga classes in Spearfish, and Hight fell in love.
Hight views herself as a hybrid, because while she comes from a ranching family, she considers herself “a little bit of a hippie.” She still has her cowgirl boots back at home, but nowadays, she uses essential oils, buys chemical-free hygiene products and, of course, does a lot of yoga.
“[Yoga] is almost like a lifestyle,” Hight said. “It’s at the point where I love it and I need it.”
When Hight isn’t teaching, she does yoga in her bedroom at her house off campus. Pulling out her lavender yoga mat from under her bed, she begins to warm up and stretch out. She usually plays a Netflix show or hits shuffle on her mellow playlist on Spotify as she moves through her yoga routine. When she’s in the moment, the rest of the world disappears.
“That’s what I like about it,” Hight said. “I don’t think. I focus on breathing and the stretch.”
She’s an art and biology major, an interesting hybrid that blends perfectly with her choice of career. After graduating from Augustana, she wants to get a master’s degree in medical illustration, in which artists use models, drawings, and graphics to explain or understand medical phenomena. There are only four graduate schools in North America that offer a medical illustration program, but Lindsay Twa, her art academic advisor, is optimistic that Hight will be accepted to one of the schools.
“She’s incredibly talented and motivated,” Twa said. “[She] instantly strikes you as a bright, shining personality. She would be a phenomenal candidate.”
Though Hight said she doesn’t plan on teaching yoga while in graduate school, she will continue practicing on her own and eventually become a certified yoga instructor.
Last fall, Hight trained freshman Shayla White to become a yoga sculpt instructor at the Elmen and is currently training Sarah Moore to take over her own class when she leaves.
“It’s weird for me. I’ve gotten to know the people that come,” Hight said. “At the same time, I’m ready to move on from Augustana, ready to graduate.”
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