In stressful times, UNLV nursing undergraduate student Carly Chang turned to yoga. What started as a way to cope with anxiety turned into a lifestyle, one that she’s hoping to share with others. Between her classes this semester, Chang found time offer free yoga sessions for her fellow classmates. But even though she just started her nursing career, Chang has practiced quality health and wellness activities for years in a variety of ways.
You’re a first-year nursing student, but you already have healthcare experience. What’s your background?
I went to [UNLV] originally for biology, and I graduated in 2016. I decided to go back to school for nursing last year. I taught yoga the first time I was in college. [Then] I became a [licensed] massage therapist. I became certified in holistic nutrition after I graduated.
What made you choose nursing?
I've always been keen on helping people. I didn't use my first degree for anything related to it. I like helping people lead healthier lives and address things like chronic illness and alternatives and holistic remedies. Because I have a degree in biology, I've always been keen on science. I'm a firm advocate for East meets West and the benefits of both; it's not one or the other in my eyes. I have experience educating people, and I worked in a medical massage clinic when I finished massage school because I wanted to be more in a clinical setting. That also exposed me to how people are treated, like post-op post-injuries and how there isn't a whole lot of advocacy for alternative therapies.
How did the yoga and massage therapy come into play?
The yoga is what started it all. I discovered yoga the first time I was in college, because I had social anxiety and a lot of the common triggers people experience being in school. Yoga was one of the things that helped me manage my anxiety and stress levels in school. That helped me once I was done with school as well, but it led me on this path to getting help. I had prescription drugs to help me with my anxiety and panic attacks, but before I got to that point, I used yoga as a coping skill for my stress levels. For me, it wasn't enough. There was a point where I realized I needed medication, but I think more people need exposure to both and should have access to both because sometimes you need more than just medication or more than just yoga.
Yoga was personally for me a stress-coping thing, but I got other benefits from moving regularly - increased flexibility, range of motion, better blood pressure, vitamins, all those good things. [There’s] also the mental health aspect, too. My anxiety was managed better, but it's like a moving meditation. It teaches you how to move through life in a less stressful way. [Additionally], Yoga taught me breathing techniques, which are key in managing general stress and anxiety. It doesn't have to be something serious or life-threatening; it could just be you're stressed out from your job, spouse, family, whatever it is. It's being able to react to things, to take the time to process and come up with a response.
What motivated you to host yoga classes during your first nursing semester?
It was kind of a joke, honestly, because we're taking vitals and they're like, ‘Your blood pressure is not accelerated like everyone else's, and your breathing is pretty slow.’ I said I've been doing yoga for a while now. I've been teaching since 2016, but I have been practicing for 10 years now, and it affects your body in a measurable way when you've been doing it as long as I have. Because I have more experience with going to school and getting a degree in something that's very studious, like a science field, I kind of already know how the stress is and ways to help me manage the stress, and I just wanted to be able to share that with other people. The other reason why I wanted to do it was free accountability. I personally need a little bit of help sometimes. I have all these tools. I have all this knowledge that is beneficial and I know what I should be doing, but that doesn't necessarily mean I always get around to doing it or make it a priority.
Describe some common stereotypes people associate with yoga that you disagree with.
There are honestly so many, but I think the first and most important is a lot of people view yoga either as an exercise, like a physical activity that you do to become more flexible or only flexible people do it, and the other end of the spectrum is yoga is this ‘woo woo meditation’ thing that isn't practical. I always tell people yoga isn't something you do. It's a way of life. We always think of yoga as this activity we do but there are all these different limbs that fall under the umbrella of yoga that involve literally everything you do, like how you eat, sleep, treat people, breathing and stuff like that. But it's not just a singular thing you do, like at a designated class time, and then you're done with it.
Define a successful yoga session.
A successful yoga session is one that takes place. If you show up, and you are present on your mat, it's already a success. The only unsuccessful one is the one that doesn't take place. When I get on my mat, or I am present in yoga - not worrying about all the things I still have to do or stressing about life - being present in the moment and breathing are the ultimate goals.
Do you see a future where you can combine all your education into one role?
Totally. I think one of the reasons I've been drawn to nursing is because it's such a diverse field. There’re so many avenues you can go down. I feel everything that I've studied and all of the things that I've done previously, they all help me in the nursing field in their own way. I don't feel anything I've done has been a detriment to my future career. Part of me wants to pursue something like a nurse anesthetist because with my first degree I was bio-chem heavy, and I enjoyed that subject matter. Realistically, I don't know if that's the specialization for me at this point, but I would like to be in a position that really combines all of my experiences.
For yoga beginners or people on the fence, what's your advice to them?
Invest in yourself and just try it out, because everyone starts somewhere. Everyone was a beginner at some point in their life. The only way you're going to get better is by putting in the time practicing. The other thing is there are so many different styles of yoga. It's hard for somebody who doesn't know anything about yoga to really differentiate what style resonates with them because they're not all the same and they can actually be quite different.