The stress isn’t holding on to you, you are holding on to it.

This is what Maureen McGuire, a yoga instructor, wants her class to realize. She also wants them to explore the possibility of releasing their ankles into a downward-facing dog pose, but today it just isn’t going to happen.

McGuire, who teaches three classes a week at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, has become a cult figure among students seeking inner peace, a healthier lifestyle, or even a “Madonna-like” physique. McGuire’s Tuesday yoga class, the most popular gym class at Yale, has nearly 100 students. They are male and female, young and old.

“You look like a human quilt,” McGuire said, looking out across the exercise room. She examined the poses of her students, occasionally stopping to straighten an arm or adjust a leg.

For many of McGuire’s students, the meditation of yoga comes with a spiritual peace that can’t be found elsewhere.

“I don’t have spirituality, but when you’re in yoga you’re in your body and not in your mind,” Eliisa Frazier ’04 said. “It’s going to be spiritual because of the fact that you’re taking time out of your day to do something you wouldn’t normally do.”

Others found it difficult to embrace yoga.

“I feel like it could be a very useful outlet for those who go in with an open mind,” Barbara Yu ’04 said. “But for those who approached it cynically, like me, it wasn’t useful.”

When asked why she thinks the class is so popular, McGuire paused.

“Why don’t you ask them?” she said, pointing toward the room full of adoring fans. “Class,” she called out, “why do you come to yoga?”

After a moment of silence, her proteges, never taking their eyes off Maureen, slowly volunteered. “It helps me stretch,” “It’s a nicely guided class,” “I get to be alone,” “I think it’s the perfect exercise.” Maureen looked pleased.

The class’ charismatic instructor, however, is not the only reason why people are sharing mats or kneeling on bare wood to squeeze into the room.

“It makes me a lot stronger, more fit, and more toned,” Julie Wyatt GRD ’07 said. “And I can think clearly afterward.”

After years of being viewed as a fad, many doctors now accept yoga as having genuine health benefits. In fact, some even prescribe it to their patients.

“Yoga can have many benefits particularly if meditation is included in the program. The various positions impart great flexibility and strength through the isometric holding of a position,” said Dr. Barry Goldberg, chief athletic physician at University Health Services. “Yoga certainly receives my full support, particularly for a stressed college population.”

Yoga not only helps students deal with their academic stress, but also gives them some time to themselves.

“It helps me tolerate the people I meet during the day,” Jennifer Drapkin ’02 said.

McGuire, who has been practicing yoga for over 30 years, was drawn to the discipline because “it was that natural pursuit as a hippy when people were into meditation.”

She’s stayed with it, however, because it pulls her away from a tension-filled world.

“It’s a perfect blend of mental, physical, and spiritual in a world where there’s so much unease and discord,” McGuire said.

The class seemed to hold onto students in much the same way.

“It’s very relaxing,” said George Kornelius, a second year graduate student who has been practicing yoga for two years. “And it’s a really good workout.”

Still, others had a less philosophical take on the activity.

“We want to look like Madonna,” Hannah Fox said. “If Madonna does it, why shouldn’t we?”