Veterinary students pose after a yoga class.

Left to right: Trevor Kahi Hirano, Sean Calalang, Devin James, Jenelle Piñon, Emily Green, Hilary Ann Lakin, Gloria Petri, Holly Omoto, Cecelia Dean and John Retzlaff. 

May 23, 2022
By Jens Odegaard 

The Magruder Hall atrium is full of fireflies on an evening in mid-May. Some in full flight, some barely off the ground and some yet to spread their wings. No matter the state, each firefly shines its own light, and the evening is illuminated.

These fireflies aren’t the insect variety, but rather veterinary students and staff in tittbhasana, or firefly pose, during a free yoga night at the Oregon State University Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine.

Hosted by the Student American Veterinary Medical Association Wellness Committee at the CCVM, the yoga class is led by Hilary Ann Lakin, a third-year veterinary student. Lakin has been teaching the class on a monthly basis since she first came to Oregon State. 

The firefly pose is her challenge pose for the evening. First space your feet hip-width apart. Then bend over into forward fold with both palms pressed firmly on the mat between your feet. Then squeeze your shoulders firmly between your knees. Then tilt your behind back until it’s parallel with the floor and your legs and feet take flight, extending forward as if they are two wings spreading upward, out and forward past your shoulders.

Whether the firefly is executed perfectly, or completely imperfectly, is irrelevant. The point is that class attendees, both here in Magruder Hall in person or joining the class via Zoom, are present and part of a community. 

“You can't be good at yoga. You can't be better than someone else at yoga. You have different bodies doing different things and things feel differently. And that's something I always try to emphasize in my class: this is what this pose looks like for me. It's going to look different for you. And showing all of the different modifications and making sure to impress that these modifications are not scaled. They're different. It's not better or worse. It's different,” Lakin said. “And that's something that gets lost, especially in high-pressure academic settings, that people can be doing different things, and they don't have to be directly compared or ranked.”

Creating Community
The word yoga means to join, yoke or unite and Lakin’s goal in leading yoga nights is to help build and strengthen the community. 

In high school and undergrad, Lakin was the “anti-club kid,” she said. As an undergrad, Lakin graduated with a degree in Russian studies. She also pursued pre-medicine with plans to become a forensic pathologist, but “life happened” and she decided to take time off from school. She worked “retail and loved it and did that for years” before going back to school at Portland Community College to become a certified veterinary technician and then coming to Oregon State to pursue her doctorate in veterinary medicine. 

With this somewhat atypical path to vet school: “I made a conscious decision that I really want be involved. I want to be in clubs. I want to leave OSU with people thinking, 'she was a great addition to our community,'” Lakin said. “Yoga became this obvious way I can give to the community. That through the wellness, through the laughter, through the-open-to-play time on a yoga mat, I can really help people in a way that is meaningful.” 

The Breath of Connection

Lakin has practiced yoga since elementary school. “I started doing it as a way to increase my mind-body connection. I had a huge disconnect between the two and was very much like a brain-in-a-vat. And I struggled with body dysmorphia and really struggled to bring the two together, and yoga was suggested for me,” she said. 

Through the years, yoga has helped Lakin connect her own mind and body as well as provided connection with others. “The most powerful thing is we're all breathing at the same moments,” she said. It’s a shared space and time to set things aside and to refocus on the most fundamental aspects of self- and communal connection. 

Devin James is a fellow third-year student who’s been attending yoga nights since the second class. He’d never practiced yoga before, but “I fell in love with it pretty shortly after that and knew I had to keep coming back every single time,” he said. “It's given me a great way to kind of decompress and relax the mind at the end of the day, especially with vet school. It's really hard and there's a lot on our minds at all times. So getting with classmates and faculty, it's nice to see people in a different light here at the vet school.” 

Emily Green, a fellow classmate, concurs. “It's really fun to watch and meet your classmates outside of the academic setting,” she said. “And Hilary Ann is just a really fun energy to be around.” 

Light in Flight
The firefly pose will be the last challenge pose that Lakin brings to the college. With the heavy workload of fourth-year coming up – where the theoretical concepts and book knowledge of veterinary medicine transition into actual clinical practice – Lakin didn’t feel like she could fully commit to teaching a monthly class, though she does hope to do a cameo or two if all works out. 

As she heads into her fourth-year and beyond, Lakin plans to pursue her veterinary career in anatomic pathology. “My jam, if you will, is that kind of interface between wildlife and livestock and zoonotic diseases and looking at it through the one health framework of how does disease spread in wildlife and then affects the livestock, which then ultimately affects humans,” she said.

She also wants to eventually open a hospice for “dumpy hoof stock” – large animals, especially dairy cows, with endocrinological issues that would otherwise be put down – and to “bring young teen girls to just learn about animals and work the farm and have that human-animal bond and experience it and just be a member of my community in that way.” The goal would be to create a community of comfort and care to otherwise unloved beings in the final years of life. 

For now, she’ll continue to breath, putting yoga into practice throughout her life, whether on the mat or doing rotations in the veterinary teaching hospital. 

“Doing yoga itself is kind of a replication of life on a small scale. So you usually start in a child's pose, and you end in corpse pose and everything in between is just breath. That's all it is. You could sit there, and as long as you're breathing the whole time, you're doing yoga, and that is what life is,” Lakin said. “So when things become overwhelming, I always just remind myself: it's exactly like an hour of yoga. Everything in between is just breath.”