A few years ago, Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellow Erin McCloskey attended a yoga class with a friend. It completely changed the direction of her life. A month into the class McCloskey felt stronger and, more importantly, less anxious. She knew she wanted to share the techniques she was learning with others, especially after seeking out research showing the effectiveness of yoga on stress and anxiety with groups such as veterans and children.
Her Schweitzer Fellowship offered McCloskey, a graduate student at Ohio University’s Patton College of Education, the chance to teach yoga and mindfulness techniques to a group of people who may not have had the opportunity otherwise: the women and children at Eve Incorporated, an organization that aids survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“My hope is to introduce yoga to others that may not have the financial ability to attend a yoga class at a studio, or may be intimidated by what they think yoga is,” says McCloskey. “You don’t have to be able to touch your toes to do yoga. If you can breathe, you can do yoga.
“I reached out to this population because yoga can be powerful, liberating, and complement existing treatment,” McCloskey adds. “Participants practice in an atmosphere that encourages non-judgment and acceptance. My hope is that individuals that participate will feel empowered, connect more with their inner resources, and find acceptance with themselves and in community.”
At Eve Incorporated, McCloskey teaches gentle and chair yoga postures that are accessible to most bodies, mindfulness skills, meditation and relaxation techniques, and visualization exercises. Many participants, she says, are surprised by how accessible yoga feels once they give it a try. McCloskey listens to what her students say they need and focuses her instruction in those areas, but a class will always include breath work. “I believe it is one of the most important components of each class because of the way the breath can impact the mind-body physiology,” she says.
The positive response received from classes at Eve Incorporated led McCloskey to a collaboration with Crystal Trout, a doctoral student at Patton College of Education. “Yoga can be intimidating, and sometimes expensive,” McCloskey says. “My hope is that we can continue to bridge the gap and share how accessible yoga is to all bodies.” She is also hopeful about the prospect that the project could generate additional data to support the clinical use of yoga and similar exercises.
McCloskey found the network of support offered by the Fellowship to be of great help in carrying out her project. “I have had the opportunity to connect with other students, as well as receive guidance from previous fellows and local leadership,” she says. “Hearing the experiences of previous fellows was invaluable in shaping my project.”
Her Fellowship project has also potentially provided McCloskey, who is studying counseling, with a career launch pad. “Upon graduating I hope to combine two things I love, counseling and yoga,” she says. “This project could potentially lead to something wonderful I can share with the profession. It is impossible to know what the future will hold so I plan to continue to be open to all experiences as they arise.”