Columbus, Ohio USA
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Yoga on High Turns Five
A Yoga Studio for Everyone
by Jennifer Hambrick
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Martha Marcom, Marcia Miller and Linda Oshins
Photo by Will Shively
Light floods through the tall south-facing window. One by one, men and women, young and older, unfurl rectangular mats of purple, blue and green rubber on the blond wood floor. Suddenly, the room is filled with a resonant “om,” the eternal hum of energy that connects all living beings. For the next 90 minutes, the people gathered explore this energy as they breathe through all manner of stretches. The “om” is what nourishes their yoga practice and what their practice gives them in return: strength, connectedness, peace.
This scene has played out again and again at Yoga on High in countless classes over the last five years, since the studio first opened in March of 2001. And the sense of a true community committed to physical and spiritual wellness, the combination of a curriculum that offers something for people at all levels of experience and special workshops given by world-renowned practitioners of yoga and related arts have helped bring Yoga on High the success it currently enjoys.
As with many good things in life, love and friendship are at the heart of Yoga on High. The studio is the brainchild and life’s work of owners Martha Marcom, Marcia Miller and Linda Oshins. The three met in the 1970s through their work as members of the Bexley Co-op. Both Marcom and Oshins are former students of Miller. Before opening Yoga on High all three women taught yoga at various locations around town, including Jeffery Mansion and Ohio State University, with Miller and Marcom each doing stints teaching yoga to inmates of central Ohio women’s prisons. The three women have more than half a century’s combined experience practicing and teaching yoga.
Miller and Oshins in particular found life as itinerant yoga instructors less than ideal, and from their dissatisfaction came the inspiration to open a yoga center that offered classes catering to yoga students at all levels.
“I was frustrated with the idea that every yoga teacher without a center gets a group of students together and there are going to be students with varying abilities all in one class,” Oshins said. “The best thing for the students and for the teacher is to have classes of like abilities that allow students to progress. So I really wanted a curriculum where the new beginners didn’t interrupt the people who were ongoing and also where they felt safe, because they had a class of their own.”
Yoga on High now offers classes in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga, including classes in both styles for new beginners and more advanced practitioners, and specialized classes in prenatal yoga, family yoga, yoga for round-bodied participants and yoga for multiple sclerosis patients. In addition to the regular yoga class offerings, the studio frequently holds clinics for Reiki energy work and offers workshops on topics ranging from yoga to beat the mid-winter blues, to meditation, to non-violent communication.
“Now we have everything from people in wheelchairs to people who are doing the (quite demanding Ashtanga) second series, which you cannot have unless you have a curriculum,” Oshins said.
People come to yoga in general – and to Yoga on High in particular – for many reasons. Regardless of why they come originally, those who regularly attend classes at Yoga on High keep coming back because, they say, it works.
Jean Donaghy, 62, took her first-ever yoga class at Yoga on High in 2002. She had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989 and not long after the diagnosis was forced to start using a cane to walk. As her illness progressed, she began to fall more frequently and experienced regular bouts of “word searching,” in which she could not think of the words she needed to use in everyday speech.
At a meeting of an MS support group, she received a flyer that said yoga could help MS patients maintain balance and muscle strength. After attending Yoga on High’s yoga for multiple sclerosis class for four months, Donaghy no longer needed her cane and, as she has continued to do yoga in class and at home, her other symptoms have all but gone away.
“I don’t fall anymore,” Donaghy said. “(Yoga) helps me improve my reflexes, my flexibility, my concentration, relaxation, breathing, and my self-esteem. It just relaxes my whole body and relieves my anxiety and helps me maintain a positive outlook.”
Life’s emotional challenges often bring people to yoga. When photographer Michael Houghton, 56, started studying yoga in 2001, he was looking for a way out of what he describes as a “dark place” in his life. Houghton has taken Hatha yoga classes at Yoga on High since the studio opened, after trying out other studios first.
“I had taken sample classes at other studios,” Houghton said. “In some studios it felt like the person teaching was on a power trip and at other studios the teachers felt kind of condescending. At Yoga on High there is a sense of connection that is compassionate and funny and very in tune with the physical body and very in tune with the spirit. Those people opened a door that literally changed my outlook and changed my life.”
Although the studio owners say most of the curriculum was in place by the end of Yoga on High’s first year of operation, it has continued to expand – in no small part to honor the special requests of the students.
“Our students are creating the curriculum, coming to us and saying, ‘Add this class, do this thing for working mothers, have a yoga camp for kids,’” Oshins said. “They’re actually at this point structuring what’s happening here.”
The idea for the studio’s newest program, the first-ever Yoga on High Kids Yoga Summer Camp, came from the daughter of Ashtanga yoga student Suzanne Schneiderman. Schneiderman, who has taken classes at Yoga on High since 2003, mentioned her daughter’s idea to Marcom and within a week all of the plans for the camp were in place. The camp will take place in June 2006.
“We sort of created this (studio), but for it to have the really special vitality that we feel when we come here, it’s really a co-creation on the part of a lot of people,” Oshins said.
This co-creational aspect of the studio, and the owners’ commitment to the Short North neighborhood, help foster a sense of community among Yoga on High students and instructors.
In searching for a location for their studio, Marcom, Miller and Oshins never looked anywhere outside the Short North.
“We really knew that we wanted to be in the Short North because it’s centrally located, it was, of course, cool and it was a reasonable distance from all of our regular students from the different corners of the city,” Miller said.
“And the Short North really embraced us,” Oshins said. “People would drop by and say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here,’ even people who weren’t taking class.”
And the studio owners love their neighborhood, too.
“For workshops,” Marcom said, “we sometimes have 55 people here and we love sending them out into the Short North. We give two-hour lunches so they can go up and down High Street and come back laden with food. We’re big promoters of all the restaurants in this area.”
“And they come here and they see the restaurants and they say, ‘Oh my God, this is a great place,’ and they go through the Short North to do their shopping,” Miller added. “We love this neighborhood, too, in that we have lots and lots of people who walk here and bike here from the neighborhood.”
Even the guest clinicians, who give workshops in the world’s most exotic places – Maui, Bali, Peru – enjoy the Short North’s unique appeal. Tim Miller, the first American to be certified by the guru of Ashtanga yoga, K. Pattabhi Jois, to teach Ashtanga yoga, and a regular clinician at Yoga on High, has seen his share of the Short North during annual week-long visits to Columbus and is impressed by the vitality of the area.
“I think it’s kind of groovy,” said Tim Miller, who owns the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Encinitas, California. “My wife has certain ideas about the Midwest as being kind of square or backwards and I tell her that Columbus is kind of a hip and groovy place and she sort of raises her eyebrows.”
Tim Miller also appreciates the Yoga on High owners’ sense of being a part of a larger community.
“I think the thing that’s always impressed me about Columbus, and Yoga on High as well, is the kind of community feeling that there is,” said Tim Miller. “I know that Martha and Marcia and Linda are all very active in the community and they’re really very much wanting to do things that support the community.”
In addition to the studio’s curriculum, which was designed to reach people at all levels of skill and experience with yoga, Yoga on High students praise a certain sense of peace and positivity among their instructors and fellow students.
“When I have the opportunity to think about moving, one of the things I just couldn’t give up is the community at Yoga on High,” said 37-year-old retail consultant AnneMarie Blaire. “You walk in and it has a certain vibe. I think it’s the energy. It’s just a calm place. No matter what the chaos it almost just melts away.”
Receiving roughly 600 visits per week, Yoga on High has nearly tripled its weekly intake in the five years the studio has been in business. As more people adopt Yoga on High as their studio of choice, the owners have been considering expanding the studio into some of the space adjoining the studio, formerly occupied by Columbus Alive newspaper. They have also tossed around the idea of opening a second location.
Regardless of whatever changes the studio may undergo in the future, Marcia Miller says she hopes to maintain what she and her colleagues consider to be the most important aspect of the studio’s success.
“I’m most proud of the fact that we are truly a yoga studio for everyone.”
Yoga on High is located in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, at 1081 N. High St.
They can be reached at 614-291-4444 or by visiting www.yogaonhigh.com
©2006 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.