Our warm welcome back to beloved Columbus yoga instructor Julia McSheffery.
Our bodies have a funny way of letting us know when we're meant to take a time out, when our tendency toward control is hurting more than helping.
Longtime yoga instructor Julia McSheffery learned the lesson of releasing control this summer when her body unexpectedly forced her away from her norm — mom, wife, certified yoga therapist, instructor at multiple local studios, teacher to many.
At the beginning of October, our community excitedly welcomed Julia back to her weekly teaching. We're pleased to announce the return of Julia's popular Yoga Nidra workshop on Saturday, February 25. Learn more about this healing workshop here.
Read below an excerpt from Julia's blog about her break from teaching yoga, and how this traumatic experience allowed her to open up to habits that weren't serving her and taught her the value that comes when we learn how to release our need for control.
When we speak about losing traction while driving on an icy road, the phrasing used is "I lost control of the car…" When we speak about rage, anger, or temper tantrums, the phrasing used at times is "I was out of control.” A fire or a pet can get "out of control.” Our health and wellness, though; was it ever really in our control?
Definitions for the word control include: dominate, curb, check, regulate and restrain. Each of these implies an ability to command. Do we ever have that kind of dominance over our bodies, our health or our well-being?
One Sunday night this summer, I found myself clutching my abdomen in spasms of pain that made me moan and cry out. I couldn't walk or stand upright. I couldn't move except to lay there and writhe. My husband was in bed, fast asleep. He couldn't hear me. I focused on my breath, searched within to find an inner voice that was less panicked and more determined.
Eventually, I managed to crawl to the bedroom and was able to wake my husband. That small success gave me illusions. I asked him to help me to bed, determined that I would be okay with some medicine and sleep. Who was I kidding? I had thoughts about what might be happening, but I was wrong. In truth, I really didn't know — I had no idea what lay ahead.
For an hour or so, I lay in bed, trying to be still, trying not to moan. But the reality, that I couldn't will myself out of this situation, became apparent. I needed help, and I needed it immediately.
My husband called 911, and I asked him to gather my insurance card and prescription information. While he did, I decided I needed to move myself downstairs. I felt there was no way that a stair chair or gurney would make it up the narrow stairs in our Clintonville home, so I crawled down the stairs to wait by the front door for the EMTs. Trying to manage the situation, I was attempting to maintain control. Off to the emergency room, in PJs and bare feet at 1:30 am.
It was a difficult trip. Every jostle and bump, every bounce and shift of the vehicle made me tense up and yelp, keening in pain. I was trying to keep quiet — it has to be such a difficult job, being an EMT, listening to people cry in pain and not being able to fix the problem. So I apologized, "I'm sorry, I'm trying to stop moaning. It has to be difficult for you to hear.” Trying to manage things, focusing on taking care of other people, still attempting to maintain control. Who was I kidding?
In emergency at the hospital, the EMTs put me off at the end of the hall. The thought ran through my head, “You’re making too much noise.” They couldn't give me anything for the pain until they knew what was wrong.
While the ER nurse admitted me, I apologized. "I'm sorry for the sounds I'm making. I'm trying to stop. It has to be difficult for you to hear." She chuckled and assured me that nurses were used to that kind of thing. You might be recognizing a pattern to my typical problem solving response — manage, control, fix things for others.
Blood tests, CT with and without contrast... I was given morphine for the pain.
By about 6 AM, my husband and five year-old daughter were at the hospital and we were introduced to Dr. R, a gyn-oncology surgeon. My husband and I looked at each other — no one said the word cancer, but once the term oncology registered, it hung heavy in the air. Suspicions: hemorrhagic tumor, peritonitis, burst ovarian cyst, pooled blood in my abdomen. I needed surgery. All the possible outcomes were laid out.
I would lose my remaining ovary, having had a hysterectomy two years ago. I would possibly lose other things too. The tumor would go and possibly some of my small intestine or colon, a section of my omentum (an apron-like part of the peritoneum). Outcomes: menopause, maybe a colostomy bag, follow up treatment (!?), they didn't know anything for sure yet.
I spoke up, “So is it laparoscopic or will you use the incision site from my hysterectomy?”
“No," said Dr. R, "we need to see everything, so we'll make an 8-9 inch vertical incision. We'll know more once we're inside."
He planned on taking tissue samples for pathology. He asked if I wanted him to stop the surgery if certain outcomes were evident so that he could discuss them with me before the decisions were made ... or would I trust him to make the medically necessary decisions during the surgery and get it all done with one instead of multiple surgeries? I had to face facts — I wasn’t in control and I needed help. I had to allow myself to relax as much as I could into their care. Allow them to have control, or submit to their control? [Read on]
Ever look at a yoga studio schedule and think, “What in the world do these class names mean?” You are not alone. What about the recent addition to the Balanced Yoga schedule, Flow + Form? What is Flow + Form?!? Our own Daniel Snider and Corinne Reczek are here to answer your questions!
What is Flow + Form?
Daniel: Flow implies breath cued with movement. Form is thinking in shapes in relationship to gravity. Take your classic forward fold posture (uttanasana). When you rotate your body 90 degrees clockwise, it becomes paschimottasana. With another 90 degrees clockwise, you are in navasana. The final rotation of the shape brings you into plow. Even though these postures have a very similar shape, they all feel quite different due to the effects of gravity. In form class, we move from easier forms to progressively more difficult forms by sequencing postures and changing the orientation of the body relative to gravity. Form sequencing often has a postural theme, such as backbends, in which the postures lead up to an apex or peak posture. During this process, you will learn how to develop the posture in your own body.
Corinne: Here’s another way of thinking about Flow + Form. Have you ever been in a yoga class and the teacher says, “If headstand (or wheel, or crow, or handstand) is in your practice, take it now,” and you have no clue how to do that pose safely? In Flow + Form, we break down poses that take a little bit more time to learn, practicing them repeatedly to build your asana skill-set. As you become proficient in basic poses, you learn the next variation of a pose. For example, once you learn the correct hand positioning and shoulder rotation for downdog, you have learned that same positioning for handstand. The prize of nailing a pose is that you move on to the next more challenging pose in that series. This allows us to both accept our current state while moving forward when we are ready for the next challenge.
Why do you teach Flow + Form?
Corinne: I am an alignment junkie. Correct alignment not only keeps me safe in my poses, but it gives me insight in how to progress my poses to the next level. But more importantly, alignment-based practice gets me out of my head and into my body, much like a strong breath does for others.Practicing and teaching an alignment class gets me the closest to a quiet mind, and closer to myself. And to me, that is the entire point of yoga. I wish to provide the space to cultivate that deeper sense of self-knowledge in my students.
Daniel: That’s really thoughtful, Corinne! The practice of skillful performance has always attracted me, whether in sporting activities, musical performance, or theatre and film. I naturally had a talent for movement based activities, but I also realized that my intuitive abilities only could take me so far. I needed precise instruction to better understand what I am doing and how to successfully perform postures that I never thought were possible! It is that joy and surprise that I love to share with students.
Is Flow + Form for everyone?
Daniel: A positive open-minded approach to yoga goes a long way. While we think it is helpful if you have had a couple of months experience doing yoga, anyone with the motivation to learn and challenge themselves is great for the class. We also expect that students have a general idea of when to push themselves and when to modify postures to make them easier. Having a good knowledge of your own body really improves your ability to engage in the practice.
Corinne: Totally agree! My teacher, Christina Sell, says peak pose classes like Flow + Form are like riding a bus together as a class. The bus rides a route to some predestined place that the teacher decides, let’s say upward facing bow, or wheel pose. We will work towards that pose, stopping along the way at standing backbends, belly-down backbends, and camel pose to teach proper alignment. Some students get off the bus at these early poses to work on refining alignment. Others progress towards wheel pose and beyond to say, dropbacks. No one bus stop is inherently better than the other, and there are a multitude of stops — you get to decide where to get off because you’re the boss!
Anything else people should know?
Corinne and Daniel: We would like your input! If you would like to work on particular postures, shapes, or motions, we are happy to make that a reality. We really appreciate your involvement in class and would like you to voice your thoughts and aspirations. Our goal is to enrich your yoga practice in a personally impactful way.
Oh yeah, when are Flow + Form Classes?
The current Flow + Form schedule is:
Sunday at 1:30 (Daniel)
Wednesday 6pm (Corinne)
Saturday at 10:30am (Daniel)