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Remembering the Life of Martha Marcom, Co-Founder of Yoga on High

Nancy Alkire Nancy Alkire Remembering the Life of Martha Marcom, Co-Founder of Yoga on HighMartha Marcom, co-founder of Yoga on High, recently passed away. Photo courtesy Marcia Miller.
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“She changed my life.” “She was my first yoga teacher.” “She taught me much more than yoga.” These are some of the many comments about Martha Marcom who passed away April 28, 2017 after a multi-year struggle with ovarian cancer. Jerry Marcom, her spouse, said that it was “a beautiful departure, full of power and grace, just like Martha.”

Martha Marcom’s huge smile and gracious enthusiasm were a light on the Columbus yoga scene for decades. “Marty, was always an inspiration,” said Gail Larned of Yoga On High, “I am grateful for her friendship and love over the past 40 years.”

Together with Linda Oshins and Marcia Miller, Martha Marcom founded Yoga On High in 2000. Before that, she and Marcia taught at the Jeffrey Mansion in Bexley or other places they could scrounge up around town.

“No one had heard of yoga,” said Miller, “We had a lot of education to do.”

“Martha was the first yoga teacher I had,” is repeated throughout the Columbus yoga community. She not only introduced yoga to many students but was instrumental in deepening their yoga practices and leading them to become teachers themselves.

“I will always remember Martha Marcom’s kindness and compassion towards me as I began my path of a yoga teacher. Not to mention her attention to detail, beauty, and goddess-like style and grace,” wrote Lori Guth Moffett, hospice-therapy director at Zusman Hospice.

“She supported me whether I went to her sobbing, rageful, or joyous, and with her soothing voice, would say, ‘This is deep work, dear,'” said Joannie Delph of Balanced Yoga. “By encouraging me to go deep into the soul work of Ashtanga yoga, I let it heal me physically, mentally and spiritually.… To this day, I often hear her words come through mine in classes I now teach.”

Before yoga videos proliferated in the media, it was difficult to learn. Larned remembers, “Martha would get cassette tapes — that tells you how long ago this was — of Richard Freeman giving audio classes, and we would try to follow along in her living room. … She was passionate about Ashtanga Yoga and the Morning Mysore program. She was glad that it is thriving now.”

Martha not only co-founded Yoga On High and taught many students there, but also convinced yoga superstars such as Richard Freeman and David Swenson to give workshops in Columbus. Tim Miller came from his California yoga studio to Columbus and was pleasantly surprised by the groovy energy in the Short North. When asked for comment, he emailed, “I could write volumes about what a wonderful, kind, generous, wise, and fun loving soul she was … May she Rest In Peace.”

Another recent celebrity visitor, David Keil, author of Functional Anatomy of Yoga, remembers Martha.

“Her openness to life in the midst of living with cancer was impressive,” said Keil. “She modeled a love of life and knowledge for everyone around her, even in the midst of what she was going through. Facing life, which includes death, with such bravery is a sign of someone who understands that it is all yoga.”

Josie Schweitzer, formerly of Thank Yoga in Columbus, remarked that Martha was her sister’s mentor and thus got her into yoga, “Martha created a such a safe space for me.”

Another former student who now teaches internationally, Taylor Hunt of Ashtanga Yoga Columbus stated, “I was introduced to yoga when I first got sober. I needed good role models and Martha was that for me in the beginning. I will never forget her classes and how she interacted with the students back then. She will be missed in the yoga community. I am grateful she let me be her student during such a pivotal time in my life.”

Of all the gynecologic cancers, it is ovarian cancer that causes the most deaths in the U.S. Symptoms often do not occur in the early stages and in later stages might be dismissed as indigestion. Ovarian cancer is called the ‘silent killer’ because its symptoms, if they manifest, are very subtle, the most common symptoms including bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency). It’s recommended that anyone experiencing those symptoms for two or more weeks should see their doctor right away. Many general practitioners or gynecologists will not see a case of ovarian cancer in their lifetime, so it is very important that you advocate for yourself and push for testing if you feel something is wrong.

“I lost the person who meant the most to me,” said Susan Schneider who lost her twin sister, Robin, to the disease eight years ago. Schneider is now an ovarian cancer activist and member of the patient advisory board at The James Cancer Hospital.

Dr. Karen Lu, an oncologist at MD Anderson and leading researcher on gynecologic cancers, noted, “There is a huge unmet need for detecting early stage ovarian cancer.”

Her studies suggest that a blood test called CA-125 followed over time in post-menopausal women increases the specificity of that test as a screening tool, although at this time screening is not recommended for the general population by the medical establishment. However, every woman, at every age is at risk of ovarian cancer, even if they have had a hysterectomy.

“All women need to know that they may have to be aggressive with doctors about getting a CA-125 and a pelvic ultrasound if they are at risk or have any of the symptoms,” said Schneider. The 5-year survival rate for those diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer is 17%.

At the beginning of many yoga classes, students hear two Sanskrit poems which are “shout outs” to the teachers who have gone before and helped students find healing — mental, spiritual and physical, — within nature and themselves. Many yoga students and teachers now have a very special person think about while chanting, “Vande gurunam …”

“Her example of how to deal with whatever life offers will be with me always. I cannot be more grateful for knowing such a beautiful being and for being touch by her, as so many have been,” said Joannie Delph.

Larned noted that, “She was a dear friend and mentor me. She taught us all how to deal with adversity with grace and a positive attitude. She modeled how to die with grace and a positive attitude. I will miss her huge smile, as will we all.”

Miller, her long-time friend, stated that Martha “died during that wild electric storm Friday night … We like to think of her riding out on a lightening bolt into the Light of her next journey.”

Yoga on High will be planning some events to honor Martha’s life. For updates, visit yogaonhigh.com.

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  • Pete

    I did not know Martha Marcom but reading what everybody says about her makes me wish I had.

    • Dee Ann Penrod

      I woke up to this sad news this morning. I knew Marty and Jerry 35 years ago. She was a lovely person and a true yogi. She was also very inspirational for me to continue practicing yoga. My heart goes out to Jerry, their daughter and everyone who loved and admired her.

  • Update on events for the celebration of Martha’s life:

    A memorial celebration will take place Sunday, May 21, at The Boat House at Confluence Park, 679 W. Spring Street, Columbus, OH 43215. There will be a reception from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m., and a service from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m.

    In lieu of flowers, we encourage you to take some time to enjoy life and time with friends and family. Donations in Martha’s honor may be made to: The Martha Marcom Memorial Fund/Yoga on High Foundation — http://yogaonhighfoundation.org/donate Planned Parenthood — https://www.plannedparenthood.org, or the Arc of Appalachia/Highlands Nature Sanctuary — http://arcofappalachia.org. Arrangements entrusted to O. R. WOODYARD CO.

    Martha Marcom Memorial Morning Mysore Practice, Tuesday, May 9, 5:00a to 8:00a with invocation and a very few words at 6:00a. Practice will be held at the Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute (TTI), 1020 Dennison Ave on the corner of Dennison and W. Starr. Martha believed in Morning Mysore as the best way to practice Ashtanga Yoga and worked hard to start and keep the Yoga on High program alive. For those of you who value this practice we invite you to come together on this day to honor her role in bringing Ashtanga Yoga to Columbus.

    Chanting 108 Om Tryumbakums, Wednesday, May 10, 5:45p. Held at the Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute (TTI), 1020 Dennison Ave on the corner of Dennison and W. Starr. Chanting this sacred mantra is a powerful ritual we perform at the death of our beloveds. As we honor the life and death of our friend and teacher Martha, this chant also helps to free us of our own fear of death. If you don’t know the chant at the beginning of the 108 you will certainly know it by the end! It is listed here if you want to practice in advance. (Printed copies will be handed out on May 10.)

    There is no charge for these events. Please let us know if you are attending. Click here to pre-register for Chanting 108 Om Tryumbakums: https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/classic/mainclass?studioid=101&tg=&vt=276&lvl=&stype=-7&view=day&trn=17&page=&catid=&prodid=&date=05%2f10%2f17&classid=0&prodGroupId=&sSU=&optForwardingLink=&qParam=&justloggedin=&nLgIn=&pMode=0

    and click here for Martha Marcom Memorial Morning Mysore Practice: https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/classic/mainclass?studioid=101&tg=&vt=276&lvl=&stype=-7&view=day&trn=100000007&page=&catid=&prodid=&date=05%2f09%2f17&classid=0&prodGroupId=&sSU=&optForwardingLink=&qParam=&justloggedin=&nLgIn=&pMode=0

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