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Psychology Senior Sasha Flowers Earns Rapoport-King Scholarship for Yoga Experiment

Fri, January 19, 2018
Psychology Senior Sasha Flowers Earns Rapoport-King Scholarship for Yoga Experiment
Sasha Flowers

If the start of the new semester is stressing you out, you might want to consult Sasha Flowers and her innovative new research to chill out.

Flowers is a senior Liberal Arts Honors psychology major from Fort Worth, Texas, and for the last four years she has crafted an impressive resume with her passion for psychology.

“I always used to have friends come to me for advice and noticed that I’m pretty good at guiding people, and then I thought about becoming a therapist,” Flowers said. “Psychology is a great place to start because it is involved in pretty much any career that I’d ever want to pursue. I decided to stick with it when I took a class called ‘Intro to Clinical Psych’ and I realized that’s what I wanted to do with my life… I want my own private practice.”

Professor Bradbury’s class set her sights on a concrete career path, and now her main interest within psychology deals with anxiety and mood disorders. Nowadays, you can most likely find her in the Anxiety and Health Behaviors lab researching an innovative new method to combat test anxiety – yoga.

Flowers explains that there has been an abundance of recent research in the field that shows yoga is a possible relief for test anxiety, but she’s aiming to improve upon the current research in the hope of implementing the results in the UT community.

“There have been a lot of studies that show that yoga relieves symptoms of anxiety, but they typically use yoga over the course of several weeks or months. I’m trying to make a very brief intervention of just 15 minutes and see if that yields any results. There was one study that yielded results after only five minutes, but they used fifth graders…,” Flowers explains.

Right, as if fifth graders have any test anxiety.

Flowers also casts doubt on UT’s standard methods of relieving anxiety, making her research all the more important.

UT currently offers students information about anxiety in the form of books or pamphlets in the hopes that understanding the reasoning and psychology behind their anxiety will relieve symptoms and guide them to practices that may help, a process known as “psychoeducation.”

“Psychoeducation is literally just a document that explains certain disorders. It is effective for some people, but there are some students where it is not that effective,” Flowers explains. “Just reading about something isn’t going to make a difference, they want some further guidance.”

Flowers aims to find that guidance through her experimentation with yoga therapy. Starting in January, she will begin work in the Anxiety and Health Behaviors Lab alongside Dr. Smith to bring in human participants to measure the effects of yoga on symptoms of anxiety, part of an experiment for which she was recently awarded the Rapoport-King Scholarship.

The methods of the experiment are relatively straightforward. She plans to give participants a challenging test, measure their anxiety, and then split them into two groups – one receiving the standard psychoeducation, and the other doing a 15-minute yoga routine. Then, they will take another test and measure for changes in their anxiety.

“If either of these treatments proves to be significantly effective, I want students to know that it is readily available,” she says. “I’m a little biased because I do yoga and I personally know the benefits of it, but I’m not trying to force anything. The goal is to shed some light on effective methods for reducing symptoms.”

And this work could not be more important in UT’s current climate. Flowers stresses the motivation behind her research.

“Test anxiety is incredibly pervasive in campuses everywhere. As students, a lot of us base our worth off of how we perform on these tests. It’s kind of the only way we’re evaluated in this point in our lives.”

Flowers’s findings will hopefully serve as impactful new evidence of how UT’s current methods are working, and pave the way for more progressive and effective tactics in the future.

Of course, psychology has not been her only focus throughout her college career. As a Spanish minor, Flowers has spent as much time in the airport line as the anxiety lab. She plans to take a gap year, but she knows she won’t spend it traveling as many other recent graduates do. As she explains, she has had enough of that. As an undergrad, Flowers made a point to incorporate a mix of cultures in her mix of disciplines.

“I studied Spanish in Mexico for a semester and immediately before that I went to Spain for a yoga workshop,” she recounts. “It was an amazing experience. And then right after Mexico I went to Alaska for three weeks. It was an amazing experience but by the end of it I was like, ‘I just want to sit in one place.’”

As a veteran of studying around the world, she has some key advice for students wanting to get the most out of the experience.

“I recommend a full semester,” she says. “It takes two to three months to truly settle into where you are, and it’s during those last two months that you can really experience everything around you instead of being freaked out because everything is new and different.”

Traveling too much is a good problem to have, and it is one that enriched her academic experience. It is also an experience that may have never been possible without the support of Liberal Arts Honors.

Until she learned about Liberal Arts Honors extensive support for students seeking to study abroad, she always told herself she could never do it. However, scholarships made her wish a reality.

“With LAH scholarships, I actually saved money by studying abroad… to see that it was cheaper than studying here for a semester was insane. And the scholarship was so accessible.”

Flowers also reflects fondly on other aspects of her LAH experience.

“One of the things that I think makes LAH so great is the availability of these small, discussion based classes,” she says. “Especially at a university like UT which is so huge, you can get lost in the back of a lecture hall and be faceless and nameless. The only classes that I’ve taken here where I felt like my opinions were truly heard and mattered were LAH classes.”

And that’s an important factor for Flowers as she, like other LAH students as she describes, wants to be heard.

“LAH kids love to talk, I love that because I love to talk,” she says laughingly. “LAH kids are never afraid to stand up and speak their opinion… I love that… to me it’s a very LAH thing.”

And she’s not wrong. Whether it is teaching English and Spanish to underprivileged elementary school students around Austin, working in the Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance, or donating her knowledge of psychology to find more effective relief for students suffering from anxiety, she embraces this LAH spirit of taking full advantage of LAH’s opportunities and giving back to her community.

From Liberal Arts Honors, good luck on your experiment, Sasha. Maybe we can get a couple yoga lessons?

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