By Lim Tian Jiao
Keith Yap (left) teaching a fitness class participant to use gym equipment. Image provided by Pan Jia Qi.
Students at Yale-NUS have the opportunity to participate in various fitness programmes and initiatives, organised by the Athletics and Recreation department. This year, students have also stepped up to spearhead weekly classes, broadening the range of programme offerings available to the College community.
The seeds of this programme were sown in July 2018, when the Athletics Department was rebranded to Athletics and Recreation. This widened the department’s focus, from simply overseeing the College’s sports student organisations to promoting a culture of physical wellness for all students in the community.
“Studies show that active habits formed in college tend to be fairly well-sustained into adulthood,” said Mr Andy Loe (Senior Manager, Athletics and Recreation). “However, some students are hesitant to join sports clubs because of the high levels of commitment required.
“To counter this, we provide multiple regular, yet non-binding, sports and recreational activities. This keeps all athletics and wellness groups open to everyone and ensures that activities promoting a healthy lifestyle are always available.”
In its first iteration in 2018, recreation programmes included regular classes by external instructors, ranging from Zumba to self-defence for women. In 2019, programmes have also expanded to include student-run classes in fitness and yoga.
Keith Yap (Class of 2020), a certified strength and conditioning coach, leads the weekly fitness programme, which incorporates gym equipment such as ropes, pull-up bars, and balance balls. Co-leading with him are Sophia Elalamy (Class of 2022) and Divyam Vinay Agarwal (Class of 2023), both in the process of obtaining their coaching certification.
“This programme is open to all members of our community, regardless of their fitness levels and prior experience,” said Sophia. “This allows us to reach members of our community who haven’t been exposed to a lot of exercise or ‘gymming’ previously and would like to pick it up, but aren’t sure where to start.”
A regular gym class participant from the Class of 2020, shared that that he appreciated the opportunity to learn how to work out in a fun—and most importantly, safe—manner. “There’s a real difference between googling the correct forms for exercise and having a coach point this out real-time,” he commented. “I also appreciate Keith’s coaching style: he’s very motivational and encouraging.”
Beyond equipping students with fitness techniques, the programme aims to empower participants to push their boundaries. “Through our classes, we hope that participants realise they can do things they previously thought they couldn’t,” Keith said. “Ultimately, it’s about sustainability—what matters is not the extreme intensity of exercise, but a consistently healthy lifestyle.”
Meanwhile, Rachel Lim and Smriti Ghildiyal (both Class of 2022) each conduct one yoga class weekly. Both of them are passionate about the benefits of yoga amidst the fast-paced college environment. “I wanted students who were stressed to have an avenue to calm down and relax, while doing something that’s a little different from sports,” Rachel said.
Hazel Law (Class of 2023), a regular participant in Rachel’s early-morning classes, echoed this sentiment. “Going for yoga classes reinforced the importance of taking time out to centre myself at the beginning of each week — focusing on the body as a way to focus the mind,” she said.
Rachel and Smriti plan each class with a general theme in mind. Mindful of students’ experience and energy levels, they are ready to adjust the specifics of the lesson accordingly.
This tailored attention is appreciated by Ginny Hwang (Class of 2023), who often attends Rachel’s classes. “I’m trying to get back on track with an active lifestyle, and yoga seemed like a good opportunity to do so,” she said.
“Classes are harder because I’m not a very flexible person, but Rachel alters what she teaches according to participants’ levels. So even though I didn’t have much prior experience with yoga, I still have a good time.”
At the end of the day, Rachel and Smriti hope participants can walk away from their classes with a sense of self-accomplishment. “Sometimes, our regular students remark that their balance is better, or they’re more focused, or they can do a posture they weren’t able to do at the start. They start to see the benefit of yoga.” Smriti remarked. “Seeing their visible progress — that’s truly rewarding.”