Where yoga and art meet: how one instructor bridges that gap

Taught by Thornton doctoral student Siwen Xi, one yoga class has the chance to practice inside an art exhibit at USC’s Fisher Museum of Art.

A surrealist painting of a white bed, with red floors and a blue wall.

When students attend a yoga class, they might expect to walk into a quiet studio with a peaceful ambiance. Perhaps mats are already laid out on the floor, or meditative music is playing in the background.

But students experienced something quite different when they practice yoga at USC’s Fisher Museum of Art. Instead, this group did their class in the midst of an art exhibit featuring works created by mental health advocate and surrealist artist Louise Bourgeois.

Bourgeois was a French-American artist, well-known for her large-scale sculptures and works that take inspiration from her lifelong struggle with trauma and anxiety from her childhood. The exhibition showcases 119 prints, textiles and a series of eight holograms that build on the “raw emotional terrain” of Bourgeois’ artistic practice.

On Thursday, USC students and staff held their class inside of her exhibit, titled “What is the Shape of This Problem?” This free yoga class was taught by instructor Siwen Xi, who is pursuing her doctoral degree in music teaching and learning at USC’s Thornton School of Music.

Xi had to adapt her typical yoga practices to better fit the new environment of the art exhibit.

“I used the words on the wall as inspiration and encouragement. It’s important for me to blend with the environment,” she said. The art, some of which included a written series of affirmations like “yes” and “rejuvenate,” also gave her inspiration about the energy of the space and how much energy she should push throughout the session, she said.

“I think it was amazing to do yoga in such a cool space, especially with the exhibit going on,” junior art history major Skylar Hansen-Raj said. “It’s a beautiful exhibit and [students] should definitely come check it out.”

Tanya Aggarwal, a sophomore business major, said she’s practiced yoga for most of her life but that this alternative environment added to the experience.

“Being in a museum made this experience really surreal because when we had to hold different poses, we could read the text,” Aggarwal said. “I’ve been going to the gym a lot and that’s very intense. This place is just very relaxing and so easy on the eyes.”

Xi is a certified yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance in Dharma yoga, yin yoga, pregnancy yoga and children’s yoga. She began her journey of yoga and meditation in 2010 when she was in high school, suffering from anxiety due to auditions and exams, she said.

Hansen-Raj said she also experiences anxiety and benefits from practicing yoga consistently.

“I feel like it helps reduce my stress and anxiety a lot,” she said. “Being a USC student is so crazy and there’s so much to do all the time, so [I] definitely feel a lot more at peace and grounded after a yoga session.”

Xi explained that her favorite moment at the end of the yoga session was when the students felt rewarded and relieved in the final resting pose after challenging themselves to the half-frog pose, in which yogis pull their foot up to the back of their knee.

“The energy from a very strenuous and tiring task to go back to how they sleep at night….was a good response to what I taught that day,” Xi said.

The Fisher Museum regularly hosts yoga classes in its exhibits, and USC students have another chance to practice in the Bourgeois exhibit with Xi on Oct. 27.