At 7:20 a.m., Tuesday: the sun had yet to rise over Elon University. In Koury Athletic Center, low acoustic music drifted from Studio 5. Inside, the lights were off. Twenty people lay flat on yoga mats, eyes closed and hands relaxed at their sides in the savasana pose. Senior Bridget Creel moved deftly through the room and laid a lavender-scented towel over each student’s eyes.

Creel — who introduces herself to her students as Bee — is a fitness instructor with Group X, Campus Recreation’s group exercise program. Her “Sunrise” yoga classes begin at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and but Creel doesn’t let the fatigue show.

“I like to work out first thing when I wake up, working out on an empty stomach then having a huge breakfast,” Creel said.

It was Creel’s suggestion that led to the introduction of a morning “Cycle” class at 8 a.m. Wednesdays. Creel teaches all Group X’s morning classes and afternoon “Yoga” at 4:15 p.m. Thursdays.

“She’s brought a new outlook on morning classes,” said sophomore Sarah Alger, another Group X instructor. “We’ve implemented a lot more sunrise and morning classes because of her wanting to do them, and we’ve gotten good feedback so far.”

Creel teaches four exercise classes a week, and some weeks, she subs for more.

As a sister in Alpha Xi Delta sorority, a print and online journalism major, an occasional Elon Local News health reporter and an intern with a Colorado-based yoga magazine, Creel has her hands full. But through it all, she is unceasingly optimistic.

“I think Bee, as an individual on the team, brings the most positivity,” said senior Katie Perez, Group X team leader.

The journey to fitness

Creel came to Elon having never taken a group exercise class. In high school, she danced and played field hockey, but she was never interested in exercising for the sake of being active alone.

“Coming to Elon has been a huge wake-up call for me,” Creel said. “Not that people are so obsessed with body image, but it’s really made me think, because I’m not enthusiastic about the way I look. It’s important to be comfortable in your own skin, not so critical, and I think exercise has really helped me, because I feel strength. I feel like a strong person when I exercise, when I teach, so it’s not so much about, ‘I’d like to change this part of me.’”

Creel began attending “Zumba” classes her freshman year. The following year she applied to the Group X team. Creel originally wanted to be trained to only teach “Zumba,” but Group X certification requires training in strength, mind/body and cardio. This holistic training gives instructors the ability to teach a variety of classes.

“We have the ability to sub for people if we want to, so it’s good to have that versatility,” Creel said.

Group X’s training program introduced Creel to yoga and cycle, her two favorite classes to teach. As a mind/body class, yoga was very different from Zumba, but now Creel does it every day.

“I think it’s important to do yoga every day, whether it be 10 minutes, five minutes, whatever it is,” she said. “The yoga part of me is the wholesome part, the calm part. It’s really where I go to reflect, where I find my stability.”

Creel’s favorite part of yoga is “savasana,” or corpse pose. For her, it’s the most important part of yoga because it allows the yogi to shut everything else out.

“It’s a reminder that you’re in the right place,” she said. “You’re meant to relax. You’re here for a reason.”

Creel also enjoys teaching her “Cycle” classes, where she can get her heart racing and take a break from the mellow, soft songs that provide background music for her yoga classes.

“Not all of our instructors can teach yoga and a high-intensity like cycle, which she does,” Perez said. “She’s always willing to step up. If someone needs a sub, she’s very open-minded and a very versatile instructor.”

A true calling

Creel’s classes — even the ones that start at 6:30 a.m. — are usually full. Many of the attendees are regulars who attend her classes multiple times a week. For Creel, seeing the same faces every week is validating.

“That’s how I know I’m doing something right — when people keep coming back,” she said.

Alger said Creel’s personality keeps people returning week after week.

“She is so down-to-earth, sweet and friendly,” Alger said. “I’m sure anyone who talks to her will say the same thing. She’s so friendly. She genuinely cares about other people, which especially comes across in her classes.”

Instructing exercise classes has rewards for Creel beyond familiar faces.

“It’s amazing what teaching has done for me,” Creel said. “It has definitely been my source of mental clarity. When I’m teaching, I’m in this other world for an hour. Because I’m so focused on the energy of other people, I get back so much.”

Aside from teaching classes, Creel works out on her own, as well. She admits teaching classes detracts from her own workouts, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The thing about teaching … I’m giving myself wholly to other people,” she said. “Even if I’m doing the workout, which I am, it isn’t at the intensity level as it would be if I were working out on my own, which is probably why I like it more. I’m enjoying my time because I’m putting it toward others. I’m distracted.”

Alger admires Creel’s devotion to teaching.

“When she teaches a class, she wants to make sure that you as an individual are giving your full attention,” Alger said. “You’re getting something from the class. You’re not just there attending. She wants you to be present, and she’s also there to help you.”

Living fully in health and wellness

Creel incorporates health into all aspects of her life.

“I try to work out every day, but I don’t beat myself up,” she said. “It’s such a mental thing for me. On days when I don’t work out, I feel sluggish. I just want to sleep. It just doesn’t make me feel good.”

Creel sees exercising as a way of appreciating the body and its abilities. As an extension of the mind and self, the body also deserves to be appreciated.

“By taking that initiative to work out, you’re showing care to your body and your mind,” Creel said. “That’s very important.”

She extends this perspective to her diet too.

“I love eating healthy, because when I do eat healthy I feel so much better,” Creel said. “It fuels my workouts — it’s just a win-win situation.”

Creel avoids eating for fitness, by which she means the energy drinks and protein bars some exercise enthusiasts swear by. Rather than just fueling her muscles, Creel tries to feed her body natural, wholesome foods that will help it function efficiently.

Creel loves to cook and tries to make all her meals herself. She will even bag them up and bring them to campus. She tries to stick to a pescatarian diet and eat as few processed foods as possible, though she doesn’t deny herself the occasional cheeseburger.

“I love to show people that, no matter what state they’re in, they can have the happiest life they deserve,” Creel said. “I think that it’s important for people to know how to get to that point, and I think health is the root to all that.”

7:28 a.m., Tuesday: As the final minutes of her “Sunrise” class came to a close, Creel raised the volume of the music and sat on her mat at the front of the room.

“Slowly begin to wiggle your fingers and toes as you return to yourself,” she said. As her students remove the towels from their eyes and sat up, Creel smiled.

“This is the best thing you could have done for your body today,” she said. “As you go through the rest of the day, remember that you’ve done this for yourself today.”