Students lay on their mats in silence as they prepare for Sunrise Yoga on Tuesday morning. The class starts off with some meditation and deep thought. Soothing music plays in the background while Natal tells her students to concentrate on their breath, and to imagine what it looks like. The class then warms up with a simple stretch, which includes head rolls. A few downward dogs and child poses later, the real stretch begins.
Students work on their core, as well as their straddle, which Natal helps them with by slowly pushing them forward from behind. The class ends with another meditation session with Natal walking around, rubbing her students’ heads with essential oils, switching up the scent once and awhile to keep it fun.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Cape Coral, Florida, Erica Natal is a senior performing arts major and double minor in speech theatre and exercise science. Students know her as everyone’s favorite yoga instructor on campus. Having a balance in all things is an important way of life for Natal, and yoga allows her to do just that.
“Before I got into yoga, I used to be a perfectionist in high school. I still am, but I’ve found a happy medium,” Natal said. “It taps into my soul. I could be having my worst day, but after work, I feel so illuminated.”
Natal, who has been a yoga instructor at UT for three years, is certified in yoga levels one, two, three and five. She is also qualified for prenatal, anatomy and yoga props. These levels signify the difficulty of teaching. Natal is three certifications short of her 200 hours; 500 hours is the maximum.When it comes to her classes, the 21-year-old describes herself as a canvas and her students as the paint and brushes, creating their own masterpiece.
“I try to cover all the areas: mentally, physically and spiritually. I love that all my students leave with something and that they end up feeling truly balanced,” Natal said.
According to Natal, yoga helps in terms of physical health and mental health. Not only does it build flexibility, but it relieves stress from creating endorphins just like any other form of exercise. It also builds strength, endurance and lowers your blood pressure.
Erik Tiitus, a sophomore economics major, has been taking Natal’s yoga classes ever since she first started instructing.
“When I was a freshman, I first saw her when I was at the gym one day with my friend. She was doing a bunch of crazy yoga poses and we asked, ‘how do you do that?’ So, that’s when she told me to come to her classes, so I did and I’ve loved it ever since,” Tiitus said. He especially enjoys her Sunday night classes. “She really creates a nice, relaxing atmosphere.”
Alicia Waldner, a sophomore marketing major, has been taking Natal’s classes since she first transferred to UT in the fall.
“Erica is so awesome. She makes my day better,” Waldner said. “At each yoga class, she has a specific goal for the class that day. I really like the sunrise yoga class because it’s a really good refresher in the morning.”
Another student, Krystal Kirby, recently started taking Natal’s classes a few weeks ago and says she is already hooked.
“Her classes are amazing. She combines relaxation with strength training, which I really like,” Kirby, a junior ad and PR and psychology double major, said “She’s not afraid to push you to do the most you can within your limit. She also does a variety of different things, so you never feel like you are doing the same thing over and over.”
Erica is involved in many other extracurricular activities in addition to being a yoga instructor. She is the student coordinator of Balance UT, a gateways mentor, a hostess at the Straz Center, a server at Macaroni Grill and a sister of Delta Zeta, all while being in the honors program. In addition, she recently got a job at House of Creative as a yoga instructor. Apart from all that, Natal loves to perform. She has been singing since she was in the sixth grade and has been performing in musicals since high school. She has also performed in some musicals at UT, such as Cabaret and Company.
Chanel Vanzant, a senior international and cultural studies major and one of Natal’s closest friends at UT, describes her as gentle and charming, as well as having one of the most infectious laughs she has ever heard.
“Erica is incredibly gifted at whatever she puts her mind to. I have witnessed her succeed in multiple areas across campus over the past four years in a way that inspires and uplifts others,” Vanzant said. “I truly admire her beautiful outlook on life. I have never met someone who is able to turn a negative situation around quite like she does while looking flawless.”
As far as Natal’s career is concerned, she wants to pursue all three of her passions, which are yoga, performing and event planning. She is excited to graduate and to see what else the world has in store for her. Natal’s senior showcase will take place on Saturday, Feb. 27 in the Grand Salon at 7:30 p.m., where she will be singing. She will also be holding a special Valentine’s Day themed yoga class on Thursday at 8:15 p.m. at the McNiff Fitness Center. There will be treats and a love playlist.
Madison Irwim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org