PHAC classes offer unique spin on community fitness


For students who need a little motivation to take their noses out of their books and break a sweat, Occidental offers one credit for physical activity (PHAC) courses such as yoga, Zumba, spinning, cardio tennis, karate, circuit weight training, boot camp and out-of-season conditioning.

These courses provide a structured setting where students at all fitness levels can participate in sports and fitness without the intensity of varsity sports.

Because they are graded pass/fail, the hardest part of PHAC classes is usually rolling out of bed early for morning classes two days a week. For evening classes such as yoga, students can unwind and escape from academia for one to two hours—an opportunity that many students think is worth the $125 additional participation cost of these classes.

Boot Camp

Marlaina Bemis (first-year) signed up for Occidental’s boot camp class because she was tired of “just chugging away on the treadmill” and thought that the class would be a good change of pace.

“I figured that I would just give it a shot,” Bemis said.

Knowing nothing about the structure of boot camp, her goal going into the class was simply to try out a new form of exercise.

Hannah Khin, the course instructor and assistant coach for women’s lacrosse, was also new to the class. She started instructing the class this year after head coach Stephanie Janice Mark—who taught the boot camp last year—asked if she wanted to take her place. Khin held the class at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester.

In a typical week, Khin said that the Tuesday workout includes a warm-up of two laps around the track and dynamic exercises such as mountain climbers, jumping jacks, sit-ups and pushups. The featured workout is usually something like running up and down the stadium bleachers twice, followed by box jumps up the steps. An example of a Thursday workout is the same warm-up, sprinting intervals and weighted squats and lunges. According to Khin, an essential part of the class—and the students’ favorite—is ending with a core circuit.

Khin said that the class is important because it provides an opportunity to explore the athletic facilities for students who are reluctant to go to the gym on their own.

“The gym in general can be really intimidating, especially if you’re not used to it,” Khin said. “By taking a class and getting familiar with it, students want to come in their own time.”

Students’ fitness levels varied greatly when the class was larger in the fall, so Khin encouraged everyone to go at their own pace. According to Khin, students were all motivated to improve their fitness levels.

“They really try to push themselves,” Khin said.

Ten students enrolled in boot camp in the fall and made it through the entire semester, but only Bemis made it to this point in the spring. So, Khin became Bemis’ boot camp workout buddy.

“She’s really great, a good participant,” Khin said.

According to Bemis, the best part of the class is getting the workout done early so she starts the day with a sense of accomplishment.

Recognizing that not all students enjoy the morning as much as Bemis, Khin attributes the early start time to the lower turnout this semester.

“The big problem right now is just the time of the class,” Khin said. “Students obviously really like to sleep, so that 7 a.m. class is hard.”

According to Khin, other PHAC classes that start at 8 a.m. or later have much better turnout, showing that low enrollment in boot camp is not due to lack of interest, just lack of motivation to get out of bed. In order to appease sleepy students while also accommodating for other 8:30 a.m. classes, Khin began to push the class to around 7:15 a.m. That way, Khin said, students get the false sense of sleeping in. She is rethinking the timing of class for next year.

For now, Khin can focus all her attention on helping her one student improve. Khin said that she is proud of how willing Bemis has been to push herself out of her comfort zone.

At first, Bemis felt she struggled in boot camp and could not do pushups. She says the problem was not so much lack of strength as it was lack of motivation to challenge herself. Though every muscle in her body was sore for the first three weeks, Bemis eventually became able to do pushups and was excited about her improvement. Now, she continues to add time to her plank, add reps to workouts and broaden her goals as she becomes stronger.

“What motivates me to keep going is actually seeing and feeling the change,” Bemis said.

For Bemis, the class is worth every effort and every dollar of the additional class fee.

“I’ve just been an all-around healthier and happier person,” she said. “It’s hard to put a price on that.”

Khin likes seeing how much her students improve, but most of all, she is grateful that her students just get out of bed.

“My favorite part is whenever they actually show up,” she said.

Two sections of boot camp will be offered in Fall 2015, one for no credit and one for one credit, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings 7 to 7:55 a.m.


Occidental yoga instructor Laura VanDenBergh has been practicing yoga since she was seven years old.

“I would spy on my mom as she practiced in the living room to a yoga video by Ali MacGraw,” she said. “She finally told me I could join in as long as I followed the video and didn’t talk.”

VanDenBergh said she can still recite pieces of that video to this day, as it inspired her to practice yoga throughout her teen years and enroll in yoga teacher training when she was 19. Since then, she has been teaching Hatha, Vinyasaa and Restorative yoga, as well as kids’ yoga and AcroYoga—a partner practice that combines yoga and acrobatics.

VanDenBergh’s friend Dana Marshall, a yoga instructor at Occidental, told her the school’s yoga program was expanding and was in need of new instructors last fall. VanDenBergh jumped at the opportunity.

VanDenBergh currently teaches two classes at Occidental that both meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She also teaches yoga and meditation to businesses and, before her recent move from Austin, Texas, she managed a children’s yoga studio—The Little Yoga House*—and taught at HOPE Farmers Market and Soma Vida Yoga Collective. Now she is developing a program for young women that combines yoga, leadership, and meditation.

Besides yoga, she has a woodworking business with her uncle in which they build chicken coops with rooftop gardens, writes web series and short novellas, and is a birtha doula*—a type nonmedical worker who supports a woman physically and emotionally during childbirth.

What VanDenBergh likes the most about teaching weekly at Occidental, instead of teaching drop-in classes at yoga studios, is that she can see each individual progress.

“I can watch their enthusiasm for yoga grow, and see the smiles on their faces when they finally stick a difficult pose,” she said. “It’s really rewarding.”

VanDenBergh’s classes are technically beginner level, but she offers variations in poses to give students the option to practice with more or less intensity.

“The goal of my teaching is to give my students the tools to be in the moment, be at ease, and accept the place they are in—even when times are troubling or chaotic,” VanDenBergh said.

She strives to show her students that what they learn on the yoga mat translates to life outside of class.

“It’s easy to meditate in a quiet room with nice music, but maintaining that calm in a stressful situation is the real test,” she said.

VanDenBergh also teaches meditation for 20 minutes each week. She thinks that finding time to relax is especially important in a stressful college atmosphere.

She hopes that in the future, Occidental will open more rooms fit for yoga and meditation so that more classes can be added.

“I would love to teach more classes at Oxy,” she said.

Eight sections of yoga classes will be offered in Fall 2015, four for no credit and four for one credit, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 7:55 a.m., 8 to 8:55 a.m., 12 to 12:55 p.m. and 8 to 8:55 p.m.

Circuit Weight Training

While athletes at Occidental have a variety of training regimes, non-athletes are also provided this opportunity through weight lifting and circuit weight training classes. Associate head baseball coach Jesse Rodgers leads the class to help students build strength and endurance. Rodgers’ involvement began in the fall of 2012 when the instructor at the time, assistant lacrosse coach Jacqueline McDevitt, switched jobs.

Rodgers began lifting weights during high school and continued throughout his college career. He uses his passion for weight lifting to stay in shape and now, to help teach others to do the same.

“I helped in the weight room with the various teams I coached, implementing techniques and providing motivation,” Rodgers said. “It is a very rewarding experience to see my students make gains in the weight room, blow off some steam during the semester and reach the goals that they set out for themselves.”

Rodgers structures the course to allow for students of all levels to join and participate. One student in the class, Ellen Hallingstad (first-year), had specific goals that she believed could be achieved through the class.

“I really wanted to focus on building upper body strength, as I am going to be working on an archaeological dig this summer and I wanted to start preparing for that physically,” Hallingstad said. “My dad’s always encouraged me to try out weight lifting as a healthy—when done properly—form of exercise, so I figured it was a good chance.”

Hallingstad spoke highly of the course and recommends it to all students.

“It’s definitely set up for people of all fitness levels, and the idea is to focus on personal improvement, as little or as much as that may be, ” Hallingstad said. “It’s a great opportunity for anybody who is intimidated by the weight machines but wants to try out lifting, or just someone who wants to get exercise in a more structured environment.”

Two sections of circuit weight training will be offered in Fall 2015, one for no credit and one for one credit, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8 to 8:55 a.m.


For the early birds at Occidental, spin class meets twice a week, starting from as early as 7 to as late as 8:30 a.m. Assistant softball coach Claire Donyanavard is one instructor who provides a high-energy exercise for both students and staff.

As a first-time spinner, Richelle Jurasek (senior) entered the class with a clean slate and excitement to learn something new.

“I was a little nervous about what I was getting myself into because I had heard that it’s a pretty intense workout, but it only took one class to make me join the spin bandwagon,” Jurasek said. “I love getting up early on Monday and Wednesday mornings knowing that I am going to get in a great, fun workout—it’s a perfect way to start the day.”

Jurasek credits much of her enjoyment of the course to the instructor. Jurasek claims her favorite part of the course is Donyanavard, due to the fun environment she creates, her receptiveness to suggestions and the general energy she brings to the course each week.

“She is so motivating and encouraging, which are crucial components in creating a conducive and comfortable workout environment,” Jurasek said. “She immediately made it clear that it was our space and our workout, so we should do what is best with our bodies.”

Donyanavard focuses on coaching softball and teaches spin in her spare time, and has only been teaching spin for a few semesters.

“I got involved because our athletic director, Jamie Hoffman, encouraged me to,” Donyanavard said. “She explained the wellness program to me and I immediately wanted to be involved.”

Six sections of spin will be offered in Fall 2015, three for no credit and three for one credit. Two sections will meet Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8:15 to 9:25 a.m.; Two sections will meet Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8:30 to 9:25 a.m.; Other times TBD.


Occidental karate instructor Victor Chico began his martial arts career with Bruce Lee movies as his only instruction. He is now a fourth degree black belt and has taught the course at Occidental for over 20 years.

Chico also advises PUSO (Pilipino United Students Organization), provides self-defense classes for Alpha Lambda Phi Alpha and Delta Omicron Tau, assists Campus Safety training and has maintained the supervisor position at the Postal Operations Center since 2001.

Chico began his martial arts career with a homemade punching bag made from a rice sack filled with sand. His neighbor then offered to teach him Tae Kwan Do in exchange for help in teaching his courses to others. After Tae Kwan Do, Chico transitioned into traditional Japanese martial arts, specifically Gosoku Ryu/ Shotokan.

His son Christian Chico (first-year) began his personal karate career at the Chico Martial Arts Academy, Victor Chico’s own dojo.

“We would practice in a small garage where we would help roll out the car that is parked inside, sweep the garage floor, roll out the carpet and begin class—that’s how I was first involved in karate,” the younger Chico said. “The Oxy karate class focuses on kata (forms), kumite (sparring) and self-defense techniques, so I enjoy that the karate class does not only consist of fighting, fighting and fighting all the time.”

Victor Chico explained that his method of teaching is not strictly about the art of karate itself, but also includes discipline and growth. He continues to teach not only for his own passion, but to help create it in others.

“I teach students to gain confidence and the determination to never give up,” Chico said. “My teaching is not just the art of karate, but it fulfills a deeper meaning when I get to know and care for my students.”

Two sections of karate will be offered in Fall 2015, one for no credit and one for one credit, on Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 5:10 to 6:25 p.m.

*This post has been updated to reflect the following changes:

The all-children’s yoga studio that Laura VanDenBergh used to work for was named The Little Yoga House, not Alpha Kitten Yoga.

The original version identified a birtha doula as someone who supports a mother post-labor—the proper term for this is a postpartum doula.