UNM’s University College is using an unlikely pairing to help math students stay stress free.

This semester, 45 students are taking a new approach to how they tackle their calculus course, by adding 50 minutes of yoga right before they hit the books.

“The reason we’re trying to integrate yoga with things like calculus, is to have the person in a somewhat calmer state,” Felisha Mikkelson said.

Mikkelson began teaching yoga at The University of New Mexico 20 years ago.

“When they come to yoga class, we want to slow down the firing neurons from the brain to the limb,” she said.

The two courses are designed so that if a student signs up for that one specific section of calculus, they will also have to take the associated section of yoga. The co-curriculum is offered through the Academic Communities Program in University College.

“If it is successful this technique can be used for a lot of courses,” – Derek Martinez, UNM Calculus Lecturer 

“We have a variety of courses that we offer that combine two different sets of curriculums, so that students can learn to transfer skills across their different classes,” said Lisa Montoya, program specialist for academic communities in University College.

Senior Lecturer Derek Martinez said the idea to combine the two courses came from research that demonstrated ways to help keep students relaxed in high stressful courses, like calculus.

“We usually have a 50 percent pass rate,” Martinez said. “It’s just a real stressful environment for some students, so this was a way to hopefully get them calm, centered and feeling more comfortable with the instructor.”

Martinez and Mikkelson said the course-combo drew so much attention, they originally had around 75 students who wanted to take it.

“At first I signed up just because it fit into my schedule,” said Student Tristian Ruiz. “But I remembered in high school I had a lot of calculus stuff and I was a lot more tired, like sleepy, but (now) when I get in there, I’m ready to stay up.”

Martinez said this is also the perfect opportunity for the Math Department to collect data from this section and other calculus courses that don’t offer the combined yoga class.

“I’ll have a really good data set at the end of this semester to compare, exams, as well as the final exam,” he said.

Martinez said he hopes the data shows a new passing-rate trend.

“If this is successful, we should think about doing this with other classes that have high failure rates because if students can learn how to control their anxiety and get centered, this technique can be used for a lot of courses,” he said.

The two joined courses will be offered again in the Spring 2020 semester.

Faculty interested in using the Academic Communities model can contact University College.