April 26, 2021
Contact: Deidra Ashley, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bini Sebastian came to the University of Missouri in 2016 to study counseling psychology with an emphasis on mindfulness practices. Little did she know how deeply her studies would intertwine with her personal yoga practices and teachings.
Sebastian attended her first yoga class at the age of 16 and said she instantly found a community. “I remember the teacher guiding the practice in a way that was authentic and grounded in yoga's cultural and spiritual roots,” Sebastian said. “As a teenage Indian American girl, I felt seen in that first class. Since then, I've tried to practice and teach yoga in a way that feels authentic to me and my culture.”
In her doctoral research at MU, Sebastian focuses on mindfulness, belonging and critical consciousness — also known as sociopolitical awareness. “Right now, I’m focusing on practices like yoga and breathing and how we can use those practices to inform the way we talk about diversity and interrogate our implicit biases,” Sebastian said.
Sophomore Roman Leapheart recently took one of Sebastian’s classes about examining cultural diversity in the U.S. and experienced firsthand the benefits of combining mindfulness practices with sociopolitical awareness. “At the beginning of all of our classes we did some breathing exercises, and they helped me get in the right mindset to learn,” Leapheart said. “Bini really emphasized the fact that we’re all different, and that’s OK. She taught us to learn about and celebrate our differences.”
In addition to teaching mindfulness practices in the classroom, Sebastian also teaches yoga in her free time. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sebastian served as a yoga instructor at MizzouRec. There, her leaders encouraged her to take the holistic approach to yoga — rooted in spirituality — that she knew and loved.
Through her classes at MizzouRec, Sebastian said she found a level of independence and self-discovery she wasn’t expecting. In teaching students who came from diverse backgrounds other than her own, Sebastian said she found a broader application of her studies. “It really reminds me that we all have different identities — different experiences, different bodies, different hues — and while that may be true, we all have hearts. It was cool for me to find an authentic voice around practicing yoga and teaching it at Mizzou.”
Theresa Solis Metz, director of Diversity and Inclusion for the College of Education and Sebastian’s former advisor with the at The Bridge, has seen the connection — and sometimes struggle — between Sebastian’s studies and artistic passions. Metz recalls a piece of art Sebastian shared at the Bridge — a space for students, faculty and staff to develop and expand their multicultural knowledge.
“There was one image that she explained was about being able to blend both her artistic side and that academic side — thinking that one side had to disappear or be set aside for the academic side,” Metz said. “Through her time at Mizzou, Bini has learned that she can be both at the same time. Creativity can actually influence the academic piece.”
A deeper connection
Although Sebastian is no longer teaching yoga through MizzouRec, she is still teaching in the education classroom and making connections through other Mizzou organizations. Sebastian is involved in the Honors College as a graduate advisor and teaches yoga classes as part of the college’s Wise and Well program. In addition, students can sign up to take Sebastian's two-credit hour class next semester — ESCPS 4087 — which covers personal well-being and self-reflection using mindfulness techniques.
“She has really made a place for herself at Mizzou,” Metz said. “She’s known with our undergrads, she’s known at the Rec and in the local scene. Bini has carved a place for herself locally in Columbia as both artist and practitioner.”
Mindfulness quick tips from Bini Sebastian
Take a body break
Studying for hours on end is as stressful on your body as it is on your mind. Take a break every one to two hours to roll out your shoulders and stretch out your back. Better yet, take a quick walk and then return to your work.
We’ve all been there. You get on TikTok or Instagram, and — all of a sudden — it’s two hours later, and your self-esteem is down the drain. Be mindful of the amount of time you’re spending on social media and how you are engaging with it. If you find yourself feeling self-conscious or comparing yourself to others online, stop scrolling. Take a moment to acknowledge the feeling and breathe.
If you’re feeling stressed, sad, anxious or any unpleasant emotion, take the time to breathe. Allow yourself to feel the emotion and give it a name. Then, take three deep breaths to allow some room in your body to feel the emotion.